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The Devil, the Details, and "Consensus" for "TSCA Modernization"

For some reason, there’s always near “consensus” when Congress passes environmental laws that later become controversial (for data, see my study from 2008 on this topic). There are probably two key reasons for this. First, no member wants to appear “anti-environmental” by voting against “green” legislation; and second, few members are paying much attention to the details.

And that’s what appears to be happening with the latest attempt to reform the nation’s chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It seems like everyone is on board with the idea that the law needs “modernizing,” including both parties in the House of Representatives and Senate, numerous industry groups, environmental activists (some but not all support current proposals), and even some right-of-center policy groups that are usually more skeptical of federal action.

Both chambers have passed a TSCA reform bill (S. 697 and H.R. 2576) and the next step is supposed to be a formal conference committee between the two chambers where elected members of Congress are appointed and charged with the responsibility of reconciling differences. But there’s no conference committee appointed; it seems that members are leaving negotiations of the final details to unelected staff. According to a March 23 Greenwire article:

Weeks of closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill between House and Senate aides have an update of the nation’s chemical law ‘rounding third base,’ the head of the American Chemistry Council said today during a three-day industry convention.

Once staff have crafted a final deal—and all the “stakeholders,” i.e., lobbyists, have signed off—members of Congress, largely unaware of the details, will likely ratify the result with quick floor votes in each chamber. And that’s how many environmental bills become law—it’s sad, but true.

Details be damned, the train has left the station, and there’s little hope to stop “TSCA modernization.” But you don’t have to dig too deep to find the devil in the details. I do that in a short paper released today by CEI. Read it and weep.