Updated Toxic Chemical Law Provides Clarity for Petrochemical Industry

The Senate this week approved the first update in 40 years to the law governing chemical substances, and it is now on its way to President Obama who is expected to sign it. Enacted in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act provides the Environmental Protection Agency with the authority to regulate chemicals found in products that Americans use every day. The TSCA reform bill calls for quickly identifying chemicals that are most likely to pose health problems and focusing resources on testing them more thoroughly. The new bill provides the EPA with the authority to obtain information about existing chemicals and to approve of new chemicals before they enter the stream of commerce. In the past, the EPA did not have the authority to properly regulate substances, such as asbestos, which are now known to be toxic. Most of the congressional delegation members representing Houston and its petrochemical complex have supported the TSCA reform bill.

In some ways, petrochemical companies are in favor of the new law since it would potentially provide more clarity regarding what substances are deemed to be unsafe by the federal government,” says David Baay, a partner in the Houston office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. “Currently, energy companies that operate in different states are confronted with a variety of state regulations. This reform could help set the standard going forward. At the same time, the law was contentious in some states that argued that the reform would frustrate their attempts to enact laws that are typically more stringent than federal laws,” says Maryann Zaki, an attorney with Sutherland who has defended companies against lawsuits for violations of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. While it may take some time for the EPA to implement the TSCA reform, once it is signed by the president, many industry leaders believe the new law will be a step in the right direction,” she said.

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