Congress moves to revamp toxic chemical law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation with bipartisan support that would revamp U.S. chemical safety law for the first time in decades is advancing in Congress, winning overwhelming passage in the House of Representatives as backers sought quick Senate action.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate leadership aides said the timing was still being worked out for a Senate vote on the first update of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in about 40 years.

The House’s 403-12 vote to pass the measure updating the regulation of toxic chemicals aided the bill’s chances, with the Senate also expected to strongly embrace the bill, according to leadership aides.

“By removing 40-year-old barriers and modernizing procedures, we reduce the risk to consumers. This means the chemicals and products we use every day will be safer for Americans,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

Lawmakers have complained that under current law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been unable to effectively regulate chemicals, including those that can be found in hardware stores for home improvements.

“Under current law, it’s become harder for the EPA to ban even substances that are known to cause cancer, such as asbestos,” said Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, in calling for passage of the bill on Tuesday.

According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “Absent EPA action under TSCA, some states, litigants and even consumer product retailers have been increasingly taking steps to restrict certain chemicals, not always relying on objective scientific analysis to make these decisions.”

Under the bill, the government would evaluate risks posed by chemicals without considering the cost of taking action.

If there are indications that a chemical’s use presents an unreasonable risk, the EPA would attempt to manage the risk, under the bill. Steps could range from labeling the product to banning it.

Under the compromise bill hammered out by Republicans and Democrats, the EPA would have to consider the impact of a chemical on health and the environment, the chemical’s benefits and the economic impact of regulation.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham