It’s been more than a year since Congress passed landmark legislation reforming and updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 1976 law governing the U.S. chemical industry. Just getting it passed and putting a bill on the president’s desk for his signature was a monumental accomplishment.
But as I mentioned at the time, that was just the beginning. The real work lay ahead – particularly in performing the vital task of conducting safety assessments on both new and existing products.
For TSCA reform to be fully implemented and work as intended, Washington cannot drop the ball on this critical task. After all, our industry is likely to submit around 1,000 new chemical products for assessment each year. If the Environmental Protection Agency can’t deal with new chemical submissions as they come in, in a timely manner, then the considerable efforts at meaningful reform would be for naught.
So let’s give credit where it’s due.
Two months ago, as we neared the law’s one-year anniversary, the agency committed to eliminating the major backlog of new chemical submission reviews, which had grown to as high as 600 earlier this year.
EPA also set an ambitious deadline – by the end of July – to get it done. Skepticism abounded over whether it could achieve so much in such a short time.
Not to worry, it turns out. Last week, EPA announced that it has eliminated the backlog of new chemical reviews, and the number of submissions now awaiting review is in line with the typical workload.
As the agency’s administrator put it in their release, EPA “can either be a roadblock to new products, or it can be a supporter of innovation and ever-improving chemical safety.” That gets it exactly right.
The challenge now is to prevent backlogs from reoccurring. That will require EPA to institute a more predictable, transparent, and orderly process for reviews, which EPA officials pledge they are working to put in place.
Given the hard work we saw from EPA officials and staff in June and July, and the resulting accomplishment, there’s every reason to be encouraged.
Neil Chapman is president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company.