The Toxic Substances Control Act Amendments May Do Little to Relieve California Headaches for Businesses

Posted on July 15, 2016 by Robert Falk

Business groups largely supported the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Amendments recently signed into law by President Obama to address concerns about the emergence of varying state-by-state requirements regulating the chemicals used in consumer products.  But for those wishing to avail themselves of California’s vast and lucrative marketplace, the TSCA Amendments and EPA’s June 29, 2016 plan to begin implementing them may prove to do little to alleviate business’s headaches.  While the TSCA Amendments include a number of permanent and temporary federal preemption provisions, they are riddled with holes that may allow California’s activist requirements and plaintiffs’ lawyers to proceed largely unimpeded.

Potential Impact of the TSCA Amendments on California’s Safer Consumer Products (“Green Chemistry”) Program

The Amendment’s preemption provisions could halt or constrain the implementation of the California Safer Consumer Products (SCP) program.  The statutory basis for California’s so-called “Green Chemistry Initiative” was enacted just after August 31, 2003 and its initial requirements for Priority Product-chemical pairings were not finalized prior to April 22, 2016 so at least certain types of requirements arising from the SCP program may be subject to TSCA preemption. 

But whether these preemption provisions will have a meaningful effect on the future of the SCP program remains to be seen.  For example, as long as EPA has not taken any regulatory action on a chemical, California will retain full authority to regulate a product that contains it.  Moreover, if the use of the chemical does not fall under EPA’s TSCA jurisdiction, the SCP program’s actions concerning it will never be preempted.  (For instance, TSCA does not cover personal care products or beauty products.)

Indeed, California’s requirement that manufacturers of products designated as Priority Products provide the state with data and conduct an Alternatives Analysis pursuant to the SCP program appears to be left unaltered by the new TSCA preemption provisions.  Likewise certain forms of regulatory responses to an Alternatives Analysis on a Priority Product, such as mandating certain warnings or other information disclosure requirements, may well be found to survive TSCA preemption. 

Potential Impact of the TSCA Amendments on California’s Proposition 65

Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide a “clear and reasonable” warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing a Californian to any detectable amount of a listed chemical unless the business can prove that the exposure level does not pose a significant risk of cancer or is at least 1,000 times below the level which causes no observable reproductive effect.  Public prosecutors are meant to be the primary enforcers of Proposition 65, but the statute is most loathed because any individual claiming to act in the public interest also has the ability to enforce it by filing “bounty hunter” lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of consumer products. 

California’s federal legislators, including retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, took pains to ensure that Proposition 65, which was enacted in 1986, remained fully shielded from TSCA preemption.  Thus, California can continue to update its list of Proposition 65 chemicals “known” to that State to cause cancer and reproductive harm regardless of the outcome of EPA’s TSCA evaluation on the same chemical.  Proposition 65 bounty-hunter lawsuits can also continue to be filed concerning even the most de minimis exposures to chemicals that EPA determines are safe. 

That said, it still remains for the courts presiding over Proposition 65 cases to determine if EPA’s risk and safety determinations made pursuant to TSCA will have a significant evidentiary role in a business’s defense of a Proposition 65 claim on grounds other than preemption.  California judges may also take EPA’s TSCA determinations about a chemical into account when it comes to assessing (or reducing) Proposition 65 penalties.  And, perhaps at best, TSCA’s preemption provisions may also help convince courts that it is inappropriate to allow plaintiffs to continue to use Proposition 65 to obtain chemical “reformulation” of products made for a national or international market instead of just requiring Proposition 65 warnings for them when offered for sale in California.



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