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Thu May 1, 2014, 08:12 AM

Republicans in Congress Are Trying to Gut Local Fracking Regulations

…And basically every other state rule on toxic chemicals.
—By Molly Redden

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.

This would leave close to zero restrictions in place on chemicals that have been proven dangerous. Because the EPA has such a short window in which to consider a new chemical, and limited resources to do so, it has been compelled to allow nearly 22,000 chemicals registered with the agency onto the market without first evaluating their safety. Since a federal court tossed out the EPA's limit on asbestos in 1991, the agency hasn't used TSCA to ban a single chemical. And in testimony on Tuesday, Jim Jones, the assistant administrator for EPA's office of chemical safety, noted that when the agency has placed TSCA regulations on a chemical—in about 200 cases—these usually amount to no more than required testing.



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