The useful properties of chemicals provide many benefits to consumers and bolster the U.S. economy, but these benefits may come with a price, as exposure to certain chemicals can lead to adverse effects on human health or the environment. This report briefly describes selected issues related to regulation of chemicals in commerce by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that are of potential interest to the 113th Congress.
Concerns about the complexity, cost, and delays in regulating chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have prompted proposals (such as S. 847 in the 112th Congress) to amend the 1976 statute. Some would provide EPA with specific authority and mandates to ensure adequate management of chemical risks. Others would amend particular provisions, leaving most of the law intact. TSCA reform is a high priority for some in the 113th Congress.
Another issue is whether to expand or restrict EPA’s authority to require public disclosure of chemical information under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) or TSCA. Bills in the 112th Congress (H.R. 1084 and S. 587) would have required oil and gas producers to disclose identities of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Other administrative and legislative initiatives also would have mandated more public disclosure.
The integrity of scientific advice provided to EPA may be another salient issue. Some in the 112th Congress expressed concern about the composition of EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). H.R. 6564 would have required a rebalancing of “the scientific and technical points of view represented.” EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) has been criticized by some for being out of date and incomplete, while the process of conducting chemical risk assessments is said to be slow. The National Research Council (NRC) made recommendations to improve IRIS reports in 2011, and Congress directed EPA to “incorporate, as appropriate,” NRC recommendations and to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct several reviews of IRIS assessments, including one for inorganic arsenic.
Pesticides issues generally are resolved under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which directs EPA to regulate the sale and use of pesticides through registration of products. The 112th Congress was interested in apparent overlap between FIFRA and the Clean Water Act (CWA). At issue is whether FIFRA is sufficient alone to ensure protection of water quality or whether certain pesticide applications require a CWA permit. In response to a court order, EPA issued a general permit requiring applicators to minimize pesticide discharges to waters. House-passed H.R. 872 would have exempted aerial pesticide application activities from water permit requirements. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry approved the bill in June 2011.
Another issue of potential interest is whether to amend both TSCA and FIFRA to accommodate certain international agreements intended to reduce production and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) globally. S. 847, as reported in the 112th Congress, would have added a new section to TSCA authorizing actions allowing U.S. implementation of the three international agreements.
Finally, as it considers appropriations, Congress may actively consider what amount of federal grant money should be made available to address lead-based paint hazards in older homes.