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April 18, 2014
AG Ferguson opposes proposed U.S. House Bill that strips states of right to protect citizens against toxic chemicals

OLYMPIA — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined a coalition of attorneys general from 13 states that sent a letter yesterday to the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The letter objects to proposed changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) that would strip states of the power to protect their citizens from dangerous chemicals.

The coalition letter is in response to proposed draft legislation, entitled “Chemicals in Commerce Act,” authored by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the subcommittee.

The legislation, which seeks to reform TSCA, includes language that would eliminate much of the authority that states currently have to reduce risks posed by the production or use of toxic chemicals.

Currently, federal law allows both the federal government and the states to address toxic chemicals. States have often taken the lead in acting to reduce toxic risks to citizens and the environment.

“States have long been leaders in addressing chemical hazards, including banning the use of them in children’s products and other consumer products,” said Ferguson. “Federal reforms must not eliminate states’ right to protect our citizens from dangerous chemicals.”

In the letter, which can be found in its entirety here, the attorneys general state that, “if enacted, the draft bill’s broad preemption language would effectively eliminate the existing federal-state partnership on the regulation of toxic chemicals by preventing states from continuing their successful and ongoing legislative, regulatory and enforcement work that has historically reduced the risks to public health and the environment posed by toxic chemicals.”

The central goal of TSCA is to set federal restrictions on the manufacture and use of chemicals that present an unacceptable risk of injury to public health and the environment. However, in practice the act has resulted in few of the tens of thousands of industrial chemicals in commerce ever having been reviewed by the federal government for safety.

The attorneys general that joined the letter are from Washington, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

Under the draft bill, Washington’s enforcement of the following state laws could be overridden:

• Ban on certain flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs).
• Ban on the sale or distribution of sports bottles, or children’s bottles, cups or containers that contain bisphenol A (or BPA).
• Ban on the distribution or sale of children’s products containing lead, cadmium, and phthalates above certain concentrations.
• Ban on the sale or distribution of certain products containing mercury.

Washington also would be prevented from enforcing federal regulations and could be prevented from enacting new state laws regarding toxic chemicals even when the federal government has declined or failed to put federal protections in place.

Protecting the environment is a top focus under the administration of Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Ferguson has developed an environmental crimes prosecution program. He is working in partnership with county prosecutors and federal and state agencies to more efficiently prosecute these crimes.

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