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States Afraid They Will Lose Power To Regulate Chemicals

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 7:46am
Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation to create national standards for regulating chemicals has generated opposition from some states, who fear the bill would curtail their authority to take action against chemicals they deem harmful.

The GOP-authored draft legislation, which aims to reform regulation of chemicals, would pre-empt some state and local regulations.

At a House hearing Tuesday, Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Moore, a Democrat, said the legislation would impose a "one-size-fits-all approach to toxic chemicals regulation."

"To strip states' residents of protections enacted by their elected officials would be a serious breach of state sovereignty and would leave everyone more susceptible to increased harm from toxic chemicals," said Moore, speaking on behalf of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Earlier this month, attorneys general from 13 states, led by New York's Eric T. Schneiderman, made a similar argument in a letter to leaders of the House Energy and Commerce environment and economy subcommittee, which held the hearing.

Subcommittee chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., who wrote the bill, argued it's necessary to create a standard where chemicals are regulated under one set of rules, rather than a "patchwork" of different state regulations. A committee fact sheet calls the measure "a commerce bill, not just a chemical safety bill. The U.S. economy is heavily reliant on chemicals, and a strong regulatory system is needed to encourage growth and facilitate commerce across several sectors of the economy."

The legislation would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates more than 80,000 chemicals that have been introduced on the market, used in everything from cell phones to plastic drinking-water bottles. Lawmakers from both sides agree the law needs revision.

The President's Cancer Panel report on reducing environmental cancer risk, issued in 2010, said the Toxic Substances Control Act "may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants."

The hearing comes a few months after a spill of 7,500 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals contaminated drinking water for 300,000 West Virginia residents, although that was not the focus Tuesday.

Committee chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, noted the law hadn't been updated in nearly 40 years.

"It has been a challenging task, but this draft bill gets us even closer toward our objective of a commonsense law that protects the public health and further encourages our manufacturing renaissance," he said.

But Democrats panned the legislation.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said that the curtailing of state and local laws would nullify laws aimed at hydraulic fracturing. In fracking, a mix of water, sand and chemicals is forced into deep underground formations to break rock apart and free oil and gas — leading to major economic benefits but also fears that the chemicals could spread to water supplies. And Waxman said that the legislation would continue to regulate chemicals under a cost-benefit standard, which he said would leave people, especially children, without adequate protection from the adverse effects of toxic chemicals.

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