Framing the Debate on Chemical Regulation

Last week, CEI hosted a congressional briefing on chemical policy and regulation (the video of the event is forthcoming). A news story in Risk Policy Report covering the event proclaims: “Free- Free-Market Group Seeks To ‘Re-Frame’ Hill Debate Over Chemical Risk.” Indeed we do!

I presented on why Congress should not “modernize” the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Dr. Rick Belzer addressed the National Toxicology Program’s faulty carcinogen classification methodology, and Dana Joel Gattuso addressed why Congress need not impose onerous regulations on the cosmetics and personal-care product industries. Unfortunately, our views are unique, but they shouldn’t be. Even those industry groups who will be harmed by misguided chemical policy reforms are not fighting back.

Risk Policy Report
[May 8] explains:

In particular, Logomasini highlighted the stalled legislation from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to put the onus on industry to show chemicals are safe rather than in the current system, where EPA must show chemicals pose an unreasonable risk before it can restrict their use.

She argued that updating the statute with a “reasonable certainty of no harm” standard, as proposed by the Lautenberg bill, would effectively ban many products already on the market and make it difficult for new chemicals to be used. The current TSCA standard — that EPA cannot regulate a substance unless it is shown to pose an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” — is scientifically more sound and less economically burdensome, she said.

“I would argue that’s actually a more appropriate approach to chemical regulation,” Logomasini said in suggesting TSCA is fine as is. Logomasini said in the interview that the CEI event wasn’t inspired by any upcoming votes or hearings on the legislation.

CEI held the event even though the bill’s prospects in the current Congress remain dim. The political environment “means nothing could happen until after the election,” one industry source says. “If after the election the playing field is such that we can get some movement, we’ll work it.”

Industry, in which some groups seek to “modernize” TSCA but have too raised concerns with the proposed “reasonable certainty of no harm” standard, has yet to put together its own TSCA proposal despite the urging of key Democrats. “If we put out a bill, we won’t get to characterize it,” the industry source says. “The NGOs will characterize it as a sham or worse, as making TSCA weaker.”

Chemical industry groups, although they support TSCA “modernization,” are rightly concerned about the proposed legislation. Yet, they offer no alternatives because, as the source in this story explained, they fear greens will unfairly characterize their point of view! What kind of legislative strategy is that?

It’s time to re-frame the debate, and free-market groups like CEI need not act alone. Industry groups should join us by fearlessly defending their products and highlighting the value they bring to society. And they should fight all efforts to limit their freedom to continue marketing and developing their products. If they don’t, we all may suffer from higher prices, reduced consumer choice, inferior substitute products, and reduced innovation — all resulting from misguided regulations imposed by an over-empowered, unaccountable bureaucracy.