Lobbyists Spent $190 Million for Bill That Protects Chemical Companies, Not Consumers
What do you get when you let the chemical industry write a “chemical safety” bill?
A bill that protects chemical companies, not consumers.
The last time Congress passed a chemical safety bill — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — was in 1976. The TSCA “was broken from the start,” according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), because it grandfathered in thousands of chemicals already on the market. It was so “broken and weak,” says EWG, that it didn’t even allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban asbestos, a known cause of cancer.
Now, 39 years later, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been introduced, the majority of which have never been safety tested by the EPA. These chemicals, more than 80,000 of them, are in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the homes we live in.
It’s time for reform. But unfortunately, S.697 — which still doesn’t address asbestos — falls far short of accomplishing that. That could have something to do with the fact that the chemical industry has spent $190 million lobbying for this bill. Democratic Sponsor Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) campaign received $49,050 from the Chemical industry in the 2014 cycle, plus $23,500 from lobbyists employed by the American Chemistry Council. Republican sponsor David Vitter’s (R-La.) campaign received $20,600 in the 2014 cycle, and $14,300 from American Chemistry Council lobbyists. We need your voice to stop this bill.
On April 27 (2015), the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a rewritten version of S.697, sending it to the Senate floor for a vote. The revised bill gave slightly more protection to state chemical safety laws, by changing the grandfathered date to Jan. 1, 2015, instead of Aug. 1, 2015. The new version also no longer allows federal chemical rules to preempt state clean water and clear air laws.
But the bill is still inadequate, according to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):
"The legislation does nothing to ensure that terrifying disease clusters of children's cancers are addressed, and the killer of 10,000 Americans a year — asbestos — was entirely left out of the bill," Boxer said. "I will continue to call attention to the flaws of the bill and the improvements that are needed to protect our families."
Boxer and her colleague Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) have introduced an opposing bill, which they say offers far better protection than S. 697, which they say cripples state efforts to regulate toxic chemicals, while leaving the federal government without the resources needed to properly safety test them.
One of the bill’s biggest shortcomings is that it allows the EPA to review no more than 25 chemicals in the first three years. At that pace, it would take more than a century to address the backlog of chemicals in need of review. We already know that some chemicals, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), are hormone disrupters, yet BPA is still found in baby food containers. As for thousands of other unregulated chemicals, the effects are unknown.
In the absence of federal action, states have taken the lead in monitoring toxic chemicals and setting safety standards for industry — 33 states have passed laws to include some form of monitoring or restrictions to harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, mercury, asbestos and BPA. S.697, though it will grandfather in many of these state laws, will hinder states from taking stronger action in the future.