Safe Chemicals Act Passes Senate Committee on Party Line Vote
A key Senate committee today approved the first fundamental overhaul of federal chemicals regulation since passage of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), widely considered the weakest of the major U.S. environmental laws.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Safe Chemicals Act on a party-line vote, marking an important milestone in the decade-long efforts by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and others to update and strengthen the flawed system that is supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals in consumer products and the environment.
“For the first time since 1976, a Senate committee has advanced a measure that would fundamentally shift how toxic chemicals are tested, approved and used in the marketplace,” Heather White, EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel, said. “The Lautenberg bill would flip the burden of proof on its head, forcing chemical companies to prove that their products are safe for human health and the environment. That has not been the case these last 30 years. As a result, tens of thousands of manmade chemicals are used into every conceivable consumer product without adequate safety testing. If the Lautenberg legislation becomes law, that wild west approach to chemicals management, which has long put human health and the environment at risk, might finally come to an end.”
Scott Faber, EWG’s vice-president for government affairs, noted that the bill proposed by Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also includes provisions to protect manufacturers’ ability to protect their proprietary trade secrets.
“The presence of so many toxic chemicals in our lives is the leading suspect behind a number of serious public health challenges, including cancer, birth defects and behavioral disorders in children,” Faber said. “The bill developed by Senators Boxer and Lautenberg will, for the first time, subject thousands of chemicals to real review. What's more, the bill addresses many of the concerns raised by companies that manufacture and use chemicals by allowing them to protect information important to their businesses. It's not too late to pass chemical safety legislation that addresses the safety concerns of consumers and meets the economic needs of manufacturers.”
The bill would:
- ensure that all chemicals in on the market pose a “reasonable certainty of no harm,” considered the gold standard for protecting children and accounting for all chemical exposures
- require all manufacturers to justify all claims of business confidentiality on chemicals and ensure that first responders and public safety personnel can access important safety information
- require new chemicals to be screened before going on the marketplace
- protect states’ ability to pass stronger laws
EWG has been calling for TSCA reform for more than a decade. In 2005 the organization provided guidance to Sen. Lautenberg and his staff as he drafted the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, the first proposal by any member of Congress to change the way chemicals are regulated under the 1976 law. That bill never came to a vote.
Underscoring the importance of strengthening the law, EWG researchers have produced a number of groundbreaking reports documenting the extent to which people are polluted with potentially harmful chemicals.
In 2004 and again in 2008, EWG had outside laboratories test umbilical cord blood samples for hundreds of industrial chemicals and found many of them in the babies’ blood, demonstrating that numerous exposures take place even before birth.
Following EWG’s first cord blood study in 2004, EWG President and Co-founder Ken Cook used the findings of that report to develop a presentation titled Ten Americans, using compelling slides and eye-opening statistics to make the case that Congress needed to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Cook and others have delivered the talk to hundreds of audiences across the country, including an abbreviated version presented on Feb. 4, 2010 before the Senate Subcommittee for Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, chaired by Sen. Lautenberg.
EWG also conducted the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in parents and their children, showing that toddlers and preschoolers typically had three times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers. In all, the study found 11 flame retardants in the children tested.
In 2010, an intensive review of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents by EWG discovered that manufacturers’ overuse of trade secret claims meant that the public had no access to crucial information about approximately 17,000 of the more than 83,000 chemicals on the EPA's master inventory. Companies were shielding the information from disclosure requirements by exploiting broad exemptions allowed under the Confidential Business Information section of TSCA.
And in 2004, EWG assembled what was at the time the most thorough review of the size and scope of the public health tragedy caused by asbestos contamination in the U.S.. The Lautenberg-Boxer bill would designate asbestos as a chemical of very high concern, restricting its used and reducing Americans’ exposure to asbestos and the deadly risks it poses.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who is a member of the EPW Committee and voted in support of the Lautenberg-Boxer bill, has been a leading advocate for those individuals and their families who have suffered as a result of exposure to the deadly carcinogen, asbestos. One of the worst asbestos contamination sites in the country is located at an abandoned mine in Libby, Mt.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.