Monday, November 21, 2011

Congress finally gets to work on chemical reform

After watching 2 hours of constructive, informed, substantive, and sometimes even juicy debate in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee last week, I am elated that toxic chemicals reform is finally on the agenda in Congress. It's not there because of special interest lobbying or industry pay-backs, but because everyday folks (like you and me!) have been badgering Congress so persistently to do something about this toxic chemicals mess, that they are finally getting the message.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the federal law that covers the chemicals that saturate our every-day lives as ingredients in almost every consumer product you can name. With more than 80,000 chemicals on the market and less than 200 tested for safety, it’s no wonder that TSCA is widely considered to be a complete failure.

Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to fix TSCA’s problems and give the American people an assurance of safety when products like baby bottles and household cleaners are put on the market. He facilitated a lively bipartisan discussion that covered everything from the EPA’s jurisdiction to the “body burden” of 212 industrial chemicals in Senator Udall’s body.

Five expert witnesses testified to the committee (you can read their testimonies and watch the archived video here). Watching the hearing, it became clear that all the stakeholders are at the table, and that one - the chemical manufacturers - are dragging their feet. One Senator after the next grilled the American Chemistry Council and asked them to stop criticizing from the sidelines, roll up their sleeves and get to work fixing TSCA, if they are sincere in their assertions that it needs to be fixed. Another key industry player, the Consumer Specialty Products Association, representing the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble, is clearly doing just that. The CSPA and the environmental health folks in the hearing room agreed that they are “on the cusp” of agreeing to solutions for all the sticky points they identified in the hearing.

Next stop: "Markup," which is inside-the-beltway language for all the stakeholders getting out their red pens and working with Senate staff to make detailed edits to the bill so that the committee can vote on actual changes. After the hearing, Senator Lautenberg reiterated his intention to bring the Safe Chemicals Act to a vote before the year is out.

Now that the ball is finally moving down the field, we all need to make sure that our Senators understand how important chemical reform is to our health and our economic future. Moms like me have kept up a steady drumbeat that has put safer chemicals on Congress’s to-do list. Our job now is to make sure that they get it done.

It was a great feeling last week to watch the Senate seriously debating an issue so important to our health and our future. This week as I give thanks with my family for our many blessings, I’ll also be giving thanks for all of you who are working together for a healthier world for our children.

No comments: