Yesterday brought good news from the nation’s capital, a place that nearly everyone agrees could use much more bipartisan cooperation.
President Obama signed legislation reforming and updating the Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs the U.S. chemical industry. By modernizing TSCA – which was originally passed in 1976 – Washington has taken important steps that will protect consumers and spur industry innovation.
It’s quite an accomplishment.
TSCA reform was achieved by elected officials putting party politics aside to work in the common interest. They engaged with industry, consumer and environmental groups, and other stakeholders to craft a legislative compromise acceptable to a broad coalition. A lot of pundits and commentators said something as ambitious as wholesale reform could never get across the finish line in the current political climate… but it did.
Even more significant than how it was achieved is what it represents: The overhaul brings chemical regulation into the 21st century.
In updating TSCA, Congress has cleared a path to eliminate the patchwork of conflicting, oft-shifting state-level chemical regulations, offering clear and appropriately stringent federal rules in their place. This will help ensure that chemical manufacturers have the regulatory certainty needed to support future investments that will drive economic growth.
Just as important, the new legislation closes some safety gaps, particularly by mandating safety reviews for all new and existing chemicals. That includes chemicals that were previously grandfathered under the 1976 law.
There’s still critical work to do – especially in terms of what will be required of the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the law in a timely fashion. But all in all the heavy workload is a good problem to have. It represents progress, and releases our industry from the holding pattern in recent years of antiquated regulations and outdated notions of chemical safety.
TSCA reform is a 21st-century law for an industry that is critical to the 21st-century economy. It establishes a science-based, risk-based approach to chemical regulation that keeps up with the industry’s advancements. That’s worth celebrating.
Neil Chapman is president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company.