A bill that tightens up a loophole in the state’s ban on toxic flame retardants is on life support in the state Senate ahead of this afternoon’s 5 o’clock bill deadline. A watered-down version of House Bill 1294 moved out of Senate Rules on Tuesday and had been blocked by the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus.
HB 1294 is a top 2013 priority for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, and it passed out of the House on a near party-line vote of 53-to-44. But the Senate majority amended the bill in committee to remove key elements backed by environmentalists.
Democratic Sen. Sharon Nelson of Maury Island has been trying to revive the language sent over by the House. One point of contention is whether to let the state departments of Health and Ecology set up rule-making to pull chemicals out of use – if they are deemed to pose a threat to children’s health.
After the state passed the landmark Children’s Safe Products Act in 2008 to phase out PBDEs in children’s products, replacement chemicals that had been withdrawn by the chemical industry in the 1970s were used as a replacement. The new legislation would phase out – rather than ban – use of TCEP and chlorinated Tris, also known as TDCPP in such products as furniture and children’s strollers and nursing pillows.
Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale said he favors the version of the bill amended in the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, which he chairs. That measure strips the additional authority for state agencies to use rule-making to bar the use of harmful chemicals.
Ericksen said in an interview he thinks Ecology already has a process for reviewing chemicals considered to have high concerns for health. He also wants the Legislature to have oversight or final word on any chemicals banned.
But Ericksen said he and his caucus favor outlawing the two chemicals Nelson also is targeting.
Nelson says the House version of the bill already represents a compromise from original legislation that had sought to ban TCEP and TDCPP in children’s products and upholstered furniture used residentially by 2014. The compromise calls for a phase-out and raises the trigger from 50 parts-per-million exposure to 100 ppm.
Nelson said she and conservative Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam have been negotiating with three Majority Coalition Caucus members including Ericksen, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina. Generally, the Majority Coalition has favored deregulation and opposed efforts to tighten regulation of business activities this year.
“What we’ve heard from the Republicans is they have two Democrats willing to vote with them so they are not willing to go to the House position,” Nelson said. “My view is we have to keep the bill moving.’’
That means the Senate could move the bill as soon as this morning to set up further talks with the House. But Ericksen rebuffed the idea of further talks, suggesting the latest Senate version is the final position.
Nelson said one possible middle ground was offered by Hargrove, who suggested a sunset of the new rule-making authority in six years – giving time to see how it works.
In the House, the vote was pretty much party line. Only Democratic Reps. Kathy Haigh of Shelton and Chris Hurst of Enumclaw joined Republicans opposing the bill, while only Republican Rep. Norma Smith of Clinton joined Democrats in favor.
The Association of Washington Business says it favors an outright ban on use of TCEP and a phase-out for TDCPP, giving industry time for replacements.
“Our position on the TRS bill remains unchanged. AWB supports a ban on the two TRS chemicals but cannot support an expansion of the ban at this time. We would prefer for the EPA and state Department of Ecology to complete their respective review processes of the existing chemicals and then revisit any changes or additions to the list,” AWB spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said in an email.
Grant Nelson, lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council and Toy Industry Association, said the AWB has been taking the lead on this bill. AWB lobbyist Brandon Houskeeper said he disagreed with that characterization.
The Washington Toxics Coalition was a major proponent of the Children’s Safe Products Act five years ago and has outlined hazards of the replacement chemicals
being used and also safer alternatives that are already available.