CHARLESTON, W.Va. --A major rewrite of the way the nation regulates toxic chemicals is under fire from states that say the bill -- co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. -- usurps their authority to set their own safety standards.
The debate over which level of government should take the lead on chemical safety comes after Manchin's repeated complaints that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversteps its authority on mountaintop removal and other coal industry issues.
Manchin said Wednesday that his bill "forces the federal government to finally step up and protect the health and safety of all Americans, including those in smaller states like West Virginia, where there are just not sufficient resources to test and regulate the chemicals that need to be regulated.
"It will allow the EPA to take meaningful action against chemicals that pose a threat to human health and safety," Manchin told fellow lawmakers, "and it will allow state and local governments to weigh in on the whole process."
West Virginia environmental regulators are backing Manchin's chemical bill, a bipartisan but controversial effort the senator helped broker earlier this year to reform the long-criticized federal Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.
On Wednesday, Mike Dorsey, chief of homeland security and emergency response at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, testified in Washington, D.C., in support of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.
"The public, the regulated community and those in state and local government need and deserve the most accurate and scientifically defensible information on chemicals that we can possibly have," Dorsey told lawmakers. "I think that is possible with this bill."
The bill would, for the first time, require the EPA to review the safety of all chemicals used in commerce. Currently, the TSCA allows the vast majority of chemicals to remain on the market without any evidence of their safety. The EPA has tested only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in the agency's inventory.
Word of the new bill surfaced in May and, on Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works took testimony from more than a dozen representatives of industry, citizen groups and academia.
Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she is concerned that the bill could roll back her state's landmark 1986 law to protect consumers from toxic materials. California officials also are worried that the bill could undermine the state's water quality laws and its efforts to combat global warming.
Michael Troncoso, senior counsel to California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, testified about the matter during Wednesday's hearing. So did Ken Zarker, pollution prevention and regulatory assistance section manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology.