April 29, 2015

Udall Questions EPA Administrator about his Bipartisan Chemical Safety Bill

Udall Questions EPA Administrator about his Bipartisan Chemical Safety Bill

WASHINGTON - Today, in response to questions from U.S. Senator Tom Udall, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said she was "encouraged" by bipartisan support for Udall's bill to overhaul the nation's broken chemical safety laws. She added that the bill would finally give her agency the authority to regulate asbestos.

At the hearing of the Appropriations Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee, McCarthy said that the Agency had previously expressed some concerns about Udall's Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. But a compromise adopted Tuesday in a bipartisan 15-5 vote by the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) "really addressed those issues."

"I am encouraged that we're moving forward with a bipartisan bill," McCarthy said in response to Udall's question about whether the bill meets the EPA's goals for reform.

Udall followed up with a question about whether the bill would enable EPA to finally regulate asbestos. A 1991 court ruling prevented EPA from moving forward with a rule on asbestos.

"Would the bill reported yesterday by the EPW committee give EPA the tools it needs to act on asbestos? And if a law is enacted would EPA consider asbestos a strong candidate for early action?" asked Udall, who is the lead Democrat on the subcommittee.

McCarthy responded that it would, "EPA would have the authority to make asbestos what we call now ‘high priority,' and with that, the EPA would be on schedule for accessing and making regulatory determinations on asbestos."

Udall said after the hearing, "Administrator McCarthy's statements are very encouraging as we move forward with a bill to reform our nation's broken chemical safety law - the first bill in 39 years with a realistic chance of passing Congress and being signed into law. We are closer than we've ever been to finally providing our kids and communities with real protections from dangerous chemicals like asbestos, BPA, formaldehyde and styrene."

He added, "I'm particularly grateful to Administrator McCarthy for addressing the issue of whether asbestos can be regulated under our proposed law. Twenty-four years ago, EPA failed to regulate asbestos - a known carcinogen that kills thousands of people every year - because the law was too weak. Our bill would give EPA the power it needs to ban asbestos so we can finally protect citizens and save countless lives."

Udall wrote the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act with U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Previous efforts to reform TSCA have died for lack of bipartisan support, but momentum continues to build for the Udall-Vitter bill.

The bill dramatically improves current law by requiring EPA to consider only the health and safety impacts of a chemical - never the cost or burden to manufacturers - when assessing chemicals for safety. It ensures special protections for those most vulnerable from chemicals - defined in the bill as pregnant women, infants, the elderly and chemical workers. It sets a new fee so chemical companies will bear a larger share of the cost of evaluating and regulating chemicals. And it provides certainty in the law about when states may step in if EPA does not act to regulate or ban dangerous chemicals.

The compromise agreement announced Monday addresses concerns that have been raised about the legislation. The changes make it clear that states may act to regulate a chemical if EPA misses required deadlines. The agreement also ensures that states will get waivers to act on chemicals while EPA is evaluating them for safety. And it makes clear that states may co-enforce the law, with the condition that penalties may not be collected from both the state and the federal government for the same violation.

Udall's opening statement follows:

Good morning. I'd like to welcome Administrator McCarthy. Thank you for joining us today as we discuss the fiscal year 2016 budget request for EPA.

This is a pivotal time for the agency. That's clear. You are taking on tough issues related to environmental protection, air quality, water quality, and climate change.

It's also clear that many of these issues are controversial. But let's remember: Our landmark environmental laws-the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act-were controversial too. But folks on both sides worked together and they got the job done. I'm hopeful that we can do the same with bipartisan solutions that move us forward-instead of using controversial riders that hold us back.

We need to make critical changes to improve the quality of the air we breathe and the health of the environment. We can't wait another decade or two.

I know making these changes won't be easy. But American innovation is legendary - and limitless. In particular, I think it's time to channel that innovation into finding solutions to stop...and even begin to reverse...the effects of climate change.

So, I'm pleased that EPA's budget request for fiscal year 2016 makes a bold statement about the need to address climate change...and also the means to get there.
EPA's funding request for its work to stop climate change represents a 50 percent increase to the fiscal year 2015 level.

The increase is overwhelmingly for grants to support the states, to plan, and implement, new greenhouse gas standards and for providing vital technical support to states as they develop these plans.

I think EPA's emphasis on supporting states is remarkable. All the more so given that-over the past three years-EPA has just barely been able to avoid furloughs.

During the past two years, most federal agencies were finally able to start getting back to normal business after years of budget cuts. But EPA has still effectively been operating at the sequester level.

And this wasn't something new. EPA's budget has dropped 8 percent in real terms, and it lost 12 percent of its staff in the last decade.

This concerns me a lot. EPA's faces a tight budget for day-to-day operations. But I appreciate that the agency is living within these constraints in order to prioritize its climate change work.

I also appreciate that the budget supports programs important to New Mexico - especially uranium cleanup on Navajo lands and a $30 million increase for grants to revitalize Brownfields.

Yet I'm worried about some of the proposed offsets-especially eliminating radon grants-and the 1.5 percent cut to State Revolving Fund grants for Clean Water and Drinking Water. And I look forward to discussing those programs today.

Finally, yesterday the Environment and Public Works Committee reported bipartisan legislation to reform how we regulate the safety of chemicals.

I think we did exactly what the American people have complained that we don't do enough of in Washington. We sat down with Republicans, Democrats, advocates, and businesses. We worked together to find a common sense solution.

The legislation creates a predictable and transparent federal system to regulate the safety of chemicals based on the latest science.

It provides greater regulatory certainty to the chemical manufacturing industry. And updates a 40-year-old law that fails to protect the American people.

The administration drafted helpful principles to guide effective reform of chemicals management. We have followed those principles. And I think we've done a remarkable job.

I look forward to hearing from you, Administrator McCarthy-and to discussing these important matters with you today.