Reforming Our Nation's Chemical Safety Law
On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed a landmark overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) into law, capping nearly two decades of work to secure much-needed reform. For the many years that it took to get the bill through an often deeply divided Congress, Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Group helped lead the way, doing whatever it took to secure its passage.
Outdated, ineffective and rife with loopholes, TSCA had long been in need of a major overhaul when Holland & Knight was approached in 1998 by a leading chemical industry association to work on reform efforts. Industry stakeholders wanted to work proactively in order to clear up misinformation about the safety of chemicals and prevent states from enacting their own laws, which would lead to a patchwork of conflicting regulations.
Holland & Knight began by working with the Clinton administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Defense Fund on a voluntary testing program that would require chemical companies to provide more data about the safety of the products they produced. By 2009, the industry had a set of principles to guide toxic substance reform, and the Obama administration and EPA released "Essential Principles for TSCA Reform" that same year.
Then the real work began. The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) championed early efforts to pass legislation revamping TSCA. Working with both industry clients and Sen. Lautenberg, Holland & Knight helped facilitate discussions with environmental groups to hold roundtables in 2010 and 2011 aimed at educating federal lawmakers on the benefits and necessity of reform. The firm worked closely with a key sector coalition that included major manufacturers and retailers, arranging educational meetings on Capitol Hill for coalition members. Holland & Knight lobbied members of Congress and met with the staff of many senators to explain why the legislation was so important.
Bipartisan support was essential if reform efforts were to be successful. Sen. Lautenberg was a Democrat, and the team needed a Republican to join the efforts. After months of building relationships with Republicans, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) agreed to co-sponsor the bill, along with a bipartisan group of 20 other senators.
They introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act in May 2013.
Several challenges lay ahead. Just after the bill’s introduction, Sen. Lautenberg passed away. He had been a major force behind the legislation, and his loss was deeply felt. Working with the industry and leveraging existing connections, Holland & Knight helped build a new coalition of political support under the leadership of Sen. Vitter and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who took over for Sen. Lautenberg. Helping matters significantly, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) made the bill a priority in his role as chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 2015.
The bill also faced a deeply divided Capitol Hill. The Senate passed its bill by unanimous voice vote on Dec. 17, 2015, but that version had to be reconciled with a much narrower House TSCA reform bill that had passed 398-1 in June 2015. Working with key House and Senate staff, Holland & Knight advocated for a deal through a series of negotiations that led to key compromises. That was enough to foster a final bill with the House, which passed the revised version by a 403-12 vote on May 24, 2016.
Renamed for its early champion, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is now law. Its passage is a landmark event in U.S. environmental regulation, and is distinguished by broad, bipartisan support – a rarity in today's political climate. The historic reform that Holland & Knight's Public Policy & Regulation Group helped secure overhauls the way that the federal government regulates tens of thousands of chemicals sold in the U.S. that are used to make everything from automobile parts to cleaning products.
It was a long time coming, and Holland & Knight is proud to have played a significant role. The Public Policy & Regulation Group has begun the hard work of implementing the law and representing clients focusing on the new regulatory scheme.
Watch a webinar on the new laws presented by Holland & Knight's Bonni Kaufman and Benjamin Dunham.