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Daily News Blog

31
May

TSCA Revisions Threaten State Power to Regulate Toxics

(Beyond Pesticides May 31, 2016) Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a revised version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), marking the first time since 1976 Congress has taken steps to address the vast shortcomings of the law to protect human health and safety. Their revisions miss the mark, however, as the changes create the potential for new hurdles, delays, and restrictions on states’ ability to enact their own toxic chemical regulations. This is a dangerous development, expecially given the bipartisan recognition and acknowledgement of the need for TSCA reform. As the bill heads to the Senate, environmental advocates who believe in the preservation of state and local power to regulate toxics more stringently than the federal government must act to prevent its passage.

Public health advocates and environmentalists have argued for decades that the  19Hazardous chemicals76 Toxic Substances Control Act  is outdated and riddled with gaps that leave Americans exposed to harmful chemicals. Under current law, around 64,000 chemicals are not subject to environmental testing or regulation. In absence of federal reform over the past 40 years, many states, including Washington, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, New York and Vermont, have stepped up to fill the void, taking actions such as setting exposure limits lower than federal levels and enacting bans on dangerous toxic products like lead-weighted wheels and flame retardant mattresses. If the TSCA revisions pass, state authority to act and protect beyond the federal scope would be undermined.

Those who argue for federal preemption of state environmental or public health laws maintain that uniformity of law is necessary in commerce. The U.S. democracy, however, is based on the ability of states and local governments to adopt standards that respond to local and state concerns and conditions. Additionally, typically, states do not exceed federal standards unless there is a weakness in the public health or environmental protections. Throughout the history of pesticide regulation, federal government action from time-to-time has been preceded by state action. Pesticides, such as DDT, DBCB, chlordane, EDB, and others were first banned by states, followed by federal action. Similarly, states have adopted requirements for posting and notice, school integrated pest management, field reentry restrictions for farmworkers, and other standards that more stringent than  federal law. In fact, because federal pesticide and toxic laws have upheld the right of  states to exceed federal standards for pesticide use, stronger federal law has resulted over time. As a result, Beyond Pesticides has maintained that it is essential to uphold the basic principle that states and localities have the authority to adopt  more restrictive standards preempted by the federal government. The role of the federal government is too establish a regulatory floor, not a ceiling.

While the final bill looks better in some ways than where it started, it does not look good on one of the issues that matters most —state preemption. As written, the bill relies on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health, an obligation they continually fall short on, while simultaneously making it more difficult for states to go above and beyond EPA standards. Meanwhile, extreme legislators and public figures, including presidential hopeful Donald Trump, have called for elimination of EPA, raising questions about  the agency’s longevity as a regulatory entity able to protect citizens from the harms associated with toxic chemicals.

While TSCA is badly in need of an update, this is not an update that should be supported. This state preemption provision is an unprecedented intrusion states’ ability to protect residents and the environment. For those reasons, we urge you to call your Senator (phone numbers listed in the link below) and tell them to preserve the right of your state to protect the health and environment of its residents when EPA fails to regulate or regulate adequately toxic substances.

Contact your Senator!  

Source: Seattle Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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