WASHINGTON -- Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Wednesday criticized a bipartisan bill intended to overhaul federal chemical regulations because it would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to preempt the oversight of some chemicals by states.
Congress is considering changes to the 39-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, which members of both parties feel isn't strong enough to protect the public from hazardous materials. The bipartisan measure has been criticized by some Democrats as inadequate.
One point of contention -- and the thrust of Frosh's testimony -- is a provision that would bar states from taking action on chemicals once the EPA designates them as a "high priority." State regulations would be blocked even if the federal government takes years to implement its own regulations of those chemicals.
"It essentially puts the states out of the business of protecting their people from poison," Frosh told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, adding that he opposed the bill. "The legislation has the priorities upside down."
The bill was crafted by Sens. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, and David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican. A separate bill, from California Sen. Barbara A. Boxer, the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, is widely seen as stronger but less likely to gain traction in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior member of the committee, called the preemption issue the "most visible area of difficulty."
"I have not heard any real response," Cardin said. "There are clear improvements that we need to incorporate in this bill."
Others suggested the Udall-Vitter measure would be better than current law -- and noted it has support from members of both parties.
Richard Denison, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the legislation limits instances in which the federal government would preempt state regulation of chemicals.
"The current patchwork covers only a small number of chemicals," Denison said. "There's a huge problem we have that demands a federal solution."