Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Releases Statement on Bipartisan Passage in Congress of Toxic Substance Control Act that Preserves Critical California Environmental Protections

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today released the following statement, after the bipartisan passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in the U.S. Congress, reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) to limit the number of dangerous chemicals in our environment.

“California leads the nation in protecting our air, water, and public health, and has taken bold steps to guard against the unsafe presence of toxic chemicals in our state. I applaud Congress’ bipartisan effort to update and reform the long-standing Toxic Substances Control Act and thank Senator Barbara Boxer for her advocacy to protect California’s public health and environment.”

The Act significantly expands the number of registered industrial chemicals that are subject to federal regulation. The passage of TSCA in 1976 grandfathered more than 80,000 chemicals available in the U.S., allowing their continued use without the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing them for their affect on human health and the environment. In the absence of effective federal action, states like California stepped up to fill the void, protecting the public from highly toxic chemicals like flame retardants and emissions from industrial products.

In January, Attorney General Harris and 11 other state Attorneys General sent a letter urging Congress to limit preemption of state authority to regulate harmful chemicals, and noted the complementary roles played by states and the federal government in protecting people from toxic substances. The letter outlined seven key state principles to serve as guidelines for refining the final legislation.

The final version of the TSCA reform legislation eliminates or scales back nearly all the aspects of preemption to which Attorney General Harris and other Attorneys General objected, providing a path for states to continue to innovate, lead, work cooperatively with U.S. EPA and even enact restrictions that are more protective than the federal government’s efforts.

In particular, the final bill reflects five important principles outlined by Attorney General Harris and the coalition of Attorneys General:

  • Once EPA has taken action on a chemical, the scope of state law preempted will be no broader than the scope of EPA’s action.  This means that if EPA acts with respect to a chemical based on a cancer risk, for example, states will not be precluded from acting as to that same chemical based on respiratory risk;
  • States are not preempted from continuing to establish requirements on chemicals pursuant to longstanding state laws;
  • States may continue to enforce existing state chemical restrictions;
  • States may retain their role as co-enforcers of EPA regulations, retaining the authority to adopt and enforce identical limitations on chemicals as those adopted by EPA; and
  • State laws related to water quality, air quality and waste treatment and disposal are not preempted.

The letter was signed by Attorney General Harris and the Attorneys General of Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Since June 2013, when the most recent legislative push to reform TSCA began, Attorney General Harris has been actively advocating for reform that strengthens EPA’s authority, while also preserving states’ important role.  Attorney General Harris will continue to work with other state Attorneys General and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its new role to regulate harmful and toxic chemicals.

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