Capitol Hill on Tuesday was home to a rare sight: House Republicans preparing a bill they say will strengthen the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But a coalition of public health experts, environmentalists, and state officials argue that the bill, called the Chemicals in Commerce Act, is a Trojan horse that would kneecap state rules on toxic chemicals across the country without giving the Environmental Protection Agency any authority to pick up the slack. Opponents of the Chemicals in Commerce Act warn that the bill would weaken oversight of fracking fluids in particular, as these are almost exclusively regulated by state agencies.
The bill, which is still a draft, is outwardly aimed at fixing the shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. In theory, TSCA gives the EPA the power to regulate any new chemical going on the market, from industrial flame-retardants to the plastic in child booster seats. But in practice, TSCA sets the bar for limiting chemicals so high that the EPA cannot even enforce a restriction it issued for asbestos—a substance so toxic it has its own disease named after it.
Almost all the most critical regulation of toxic chemicals, as a result, takes place at the state level. But the Chemicals in Commerce Act would prohibit states from enforcing those laws if the EPA has already taken action on the chemical in question—either by allowing the chemicals onto the market or by regulating them through TSCA.