On April 28, 2015, the US Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee approved S.697, the bipartisan bill introduced on March 10 by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA) to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Before approving S.697, the EPW Committee amended the bill with compromise language negotiated by Senators Udall and Vitter with Democratic Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) to address a number of issues that had been raised regarding the original bill. The Committee voted 15-5 to report out the amended bill, with Senators Booker, Merkley, Whitehouse and Tom Carper (D-DE) joining the Republican majority in favor of the bill.
Among other changes to the current TSCA law, S.697 would require EPA to make an affirmative determination that a new chemical does not present an unreasonable risk of injury under its intended conditions of use before it can be manufactured, imported or processed in the United States. The bill also would require EPA to designate existing chemicals (i.e., those on EPA’s TSCA Inventory) as “high” or “low” priority through a risk-based prioritization process and then conduct safety assessments of and make safety determinations about the high-priority chemicals. Under the existing TSCA statute, EPA is not required to determine whether any chemical – new or existing – is safe, and the agency has no obligation whatsoever to review existing chemicals at all. S.697 also provides that companies could ask EPA to conduct a safety assessment of a chemical that has not yet been designated, but while EPA could agree to assess a limited number of such chemicals, the agency could not give them preference over chemicals that it has designated as high priority. S.697 also would make it easier for EPA to require testing of chemicals, including giving the agency the authority to issue administrative orders requiring testing. S.697 also places limitations on companies’ ability to claim certain chemical data as “confidential business information.” Additionally, the bill makes it less difficult for EPA to limit or ban a chemical that is determined to present an unreasonable risk by eliminating the current TSCA requirement that EPA must select the “least burdensome” alternative when taking action.