Federal Policy Rundown

August 12, 2013

This blog post was written by Lauren Linville, HEFN's Communications Associate.

Two weeks ago, Congress adjourned for its annual summer recess. Yet before leaving, they and the Administration were uncharacteristically active on some environmental health issues. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a nearly six-hour long hearing on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). The Obama Administration released an executive order on chemical facility safety. And newly confirmed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made her first public remarks in office. Here’s a brief rundown of these recent federal policy happenings:

Senate Hearing on TSCA Reform

Interest in and hope for compromise on CSIA was a theme at a lengthy Senate hearing on July 31. Environmental health advocates continued to press for changes to address state pre-emption, deadlines, vulnerable populations, and other provisions that would strengthen protections in the bill. Meanwhile, CSIA co-sponsor Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) emphasized preserving the bipartisan spirit from which the bill was drafted.

Outside the Senate, chemicals reform received coverage in the media and on social networks. Sen. Vitter and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families National Campaign Director Andy Igrejas penned respective op-eds in Roll Call the week of the hearing (see here and here). And for hours on July 31, chemicals reform was a trending topic on Twitter, which means it was on the list of most-discussed topics that day (usually commandeered by Jay-Z and Stephen Colbert).

Chemical Facility Safety Executive Order

On August 1, the Obama Administration issued an executive order directing federal agencies to reduce safety and security risks at facilities handling hazardous chemicals. The six-page order alludes to the recent West Texas fertilizer facility explosion in April 2013 and other past accidents as the impetus for addressing safety gaps. The order calls for changes to the EPA’s Risk Management Program and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to improve regulatory coordination, facilitate better information sharing, and identify best practices to reduce risks for facility workers and nearby communities. Statements from labor and industry groups, like United Steelworkers International, and the American Chemistry Council suggest uniformly positive response to the order.

Administrator McCarthy on Air Quality and Energy EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave her first public speech as head of the agency since getting Senate confirmation in mid-July. While the July 30 speech did not unveil new policies or strategic focus, McCarthy did emphasize improving air quality for public health. She cited programs under the Clean Air Act that helped prevent 205,000 premature deaths, 843,000 asthma attacks, and 18 million child respiratory illnesses between 1970-1990.  If the recent flurry of activity is any indicator, then the environmental health field may be in for a busy September on the federal policy front. In the meantime, we continue to welcome groups to share links to notable developments and resources on our Facebook page.  Editor’s note: Giving InSight is taking off the last two weeks of August. We’ll be back with new posts in September. 

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