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Moore: Fed Bills Will Threaten Safety of MA Residents, Environment

Saturday, April 12, 2014


In the face of daunting challenges, Massachusetts has never hesitated to take the lead and pass laws intended to protect its citizens. From improvements in highway and traffic safety to recently proposed domestic violence legislation, the Commonwealth has always emphasized the security of its residents. This practice has continued as states begin to address issues stemming from the use of dangerous toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, I have grave concerns about two pieces of federal legislation currently being debated in Congress; the Chemicals in Commerce Act filed in the House, and SB.1009 Chemical Safety Improvement Act in the Senate. Both of these bills would significantly hinder the ability of Massachusetts to protect its residents and the environment from toxic chemicals.

The current federal law governing the manufacturing, transportation, storage and use of toxic chemicals is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Enacted in 1976, and lacking a significant revision since, the TSCA tasks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with overseeing and enforcing chemical safety from production to implementation. Due to ineffective language and the lack of adequate updates, the TSCA fails to offer the agency the sufficient tools or authority to be successful. In order to regulate a chemical, the EPA must prove a compound poses an “unreasonable risk” to public health or the environment. The standards for this burden of proof are exceedingly high, and the agency has almost no authority to require manufacturers to provide safety information, conduct further tests, or adhere to a reasonable time frame. Over 700 new chemicals are created each year, and many are released by the EPA, simply because of the difficulty in proving “unreasonable risk.” This regulatory failure presents serious risks to the health and safety of all Americans, as potentially dangerous chemicals are approved without adequate safety testing or public oversight.

The TSCA represents a grossly inadequate chemical policy. In response, states legislatures including Massachusetts have passed a wide range of laws to supplement federal regulations and provide the best possible protection for their citizens. While I am heartened by our progress, my concern for chemical safety is elevated by the two bills being considered at the federal level, which threaten the ability of every state to pass and implement chemical regulations. First, the proposed legislation would likely preempt many current state laws, rendering them useless. Additionally, both bills could prevent states from regulating chemicals in the future. Between the volume of new chemicals and the lax federal standards, handcuffing state legislatures could be particularly devastating. If this language were to pass, all state legislators and agencies would be effectively prohibited from making determinations about the basic safety of the public and the environment.

As evidenced by a recent chemical spill in West Virginia that left 300,000 people without access to clean water, and a chemical explosion in West Texas that killed 12 firefighters and two others, the dangers of chemical incidents are growing. But these problems aren’t confined to faraway states lacking Massachusetts’ dedication to safety and the environment. Just four months ago around 100 gallons of a highly flammable and possibly carcinogenic chemical called styrene was spilled at the Grafton-Upton Rail Yard in Upton. Thanks to the quick response of local and state first responders and chemical safety experts the damage was quickly contained, with only a few complaints of chemical odors or irritated eyes and skin. We owe our safety to the skill and expertise of those municipal and state workers and officials who were entrusted with the cleanup, despite the fact that the rail yard is operated under a claim federal control/preemption.

The chemical responsible for the contamination in West Virginia is known as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, and is used to “clean” coal, but because of the TSCA limitations almost nothing is known about the long-term safety implications of the compound. This ignorance would be continued and intensified by the two laws being debated at the federal level. Public health and environmental risks are significantly increased by the creation and widespread use of toxic chemicals. Sufficient testing before production is imperative because of the inescapabilty of these chemicals in everyday life; they’re used in the manufacturing of food and beverage containers, electronics and basic fabrics. Preemption of state law could include a number of Massachusetts statutes, including those that require proper chemical labeling, ban mercury, and outlaw the use of hazardous material in “any toy or article intended for use by children.” As demonstrated by the recent incident in Upton, toxic chemical incidents continue to represent a threat to Massachusetts citizens, even with the enhanced state safety measures. Beyond the danger of incidents to ordinary residents, the laws have the potential to further endanger public safety employees and first responders who will be forced to work without essential information or expertise. To strip Massachusetts residents of protections enacted by their elected officials would be a serious breach of state sovereignty and would leave everyone more susceptible to increased harm from toxic chemicals.

It is essential to recognize that without proper regulation, proliferation of these chemicals will result in higher risks to our public health and the environment. The Commonwealth cannot be satisfied with ineffective federal regulations, and cannot afford for Congress to jeopardize future safety regulations through the passage of these laws. The next incident may not involve styrene or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol; it may be worse, and without the ability to regulate chemical safety Massachusetts would not be able to safeguard our citizens or our environment. It is essential that this bill is defeated, and I urge you to contact your federal representatives and ask them to lobby their colleagues to vote no on this issue.

Michael O. Moore, born and raised in Millbury, is a Massachusetts State Senator representing the Second Worcester District since 2009.


Related Slideshow: 16 Questions for President Obama

With the announcement that President Barack Obama will be giving the commencement address at Worcester Technical High School's graduation in June, GoLocal asked elected officials and community leaders in Worcester if they had the opportunity to ask the President one question -- what would it be, and why?  

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Tim Murray

"Mr. President, you're here to highlight a successful vocational tech high school -- what can you do as President to lead to more voc-tech opportunities for students across the country, and help bring the resources to help make that happen?"

Why:  "As Lieutenant Governor, I focused on these issues.  Oftentimes, vocational schools are overlooked.  I visited all 64 of the schools, and was able to convince the Governor to reestablish an Associate Commissioner position for vocational tech and workforce development.  It's an important issue to me."
Tim Murray, Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce President
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Tom Finneran

"Mr. President, Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressman describe you as aloof and dis-engaged, more interested in "The View" than in their views. Are you aloof and disengaged?

Why: "The reason for the question is to challenge the President to become more engaged with the legislative branch. If he did so, he could forestall his inevitable slide toward lame-duck status."

Tom Finneran, Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House of Representatives 

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Jim McGovern

“I would ask the President how we can work as a community and a nation to replicate the success of Worcester Technical High School across our region, our state, and the country."

Congressman Jim McGovern

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Tim McGourthy

“What is the role of the Federal government in building an educated citizenry?” 

Why: "As states and school districts debate the adoption of national standards in K-12 education, the responsibilities, resources, and powers of the Federal government in the field of education have been challenged.  While restricted from direct involvement in student curriculum since the 1960s, the Federal government includes a U.S. Department of Education and plays a critical role in coordinating and funding educational policy.  In the President of the United States’ view, what are, and what should be, the limits of Federal jurisdiction in public education?"

Tim McGourthy, Greater Worcester Research Bureau Executive Director

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Chris Pinto

"Ask him why he is allowing the EPA to destroy the upper blackstone economy with ridiculous fines. He should reign them in, as they are behaving like jackbooted thugs."

Chris Pinto, Worcester Republican City Committee

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Tony Economou

"I don't have an ask, it's more of a statement, and it goes towards creating policy for our public schools.  If the President is asking cities and states having to do whatever to conform to education standards, see how it will be funded first, then create policy.  I would broach that respectfully."

Tony Economou, Worcester City Councilor

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Morris Bergman

"I would ask the President why there is no effort being made to look into the skyrocketing cost of private colleges and the lack of commensurate financial aid, particularly for the middle class."

Morris Bergman, Worcester City Councilor

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Gary Rosen

"What actions can the President take to restore the reputation and respect that the USA once commanded across the world?"

Gary Rosen, Worcester City Councilor

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Kate Toomey

"I would ask why he isn't doing more to create jobs."

Kate Toomey, Worcester City Councilor

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Michael Graham

“Dear Mr. President, which of your foreign policy successes makes you most proud?”

Why: "Do you really have to ask?"

Michael Graham, New England Talk Network

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John Giangregorio

"I would ask what he's doing about the economy, and jobs, especially for our inner city youth."

Why: "I don't think the unemployment numbers are a true reflection of what's going on.  There's not a lot of opportunity.  People are giving up."

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Paul Giorgio

"I would ask him the same question I asked President Clinton, which is -- can you change the height and weight charts so that I can be "thin"?

Why:  "Everyone would be asking super serious questions, I'm sure."  

Paul Giorgio, President of Pagio, Inc. 

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Carol Claros

"I would want to ask him why is he supporting Common Core and National standards, doesn't he think the local school boards know whats best for our children and their schools?"

Why:  "As a single mom whose daughter is enrolled in WPS, I am very concerned about common core and the deviation from local control into federal hands."

Carol Claros, Nurse, Former Republican Candidate for State Representative

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Jordan Berg Powers

"Why are your pushing the same failed education policies of the Bush Administration with a focus on privatization and meaningless bubble tests instead of focusing on the skills that will enable our kids to create their job of the future?"

Why: "Worcester Tech is both the best and worst parts of our education system. It shows that providing quality education is not rocket science, schools need to be well resourced, they need to be fun, relevant to what the kids themselves believe will be their future plans.  And Worcester Tech is an elitist institution that fails the promise of universal quality public education that should be available to all."

Jordan Berg Powers, Worcester activist

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David Le Boeuf

"After you leave the White House, what is the primary issue that you will continue to advocate for?""

David Le Boeuf, Initiative for Engaged Citizenship, Democratic State Committee member

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Victoria Waterman

The Girls' Inc CEO, one of GoLocal's "14 to Watch in 2014," opted to let girls in the program ask their own quetions instead.  Here is what Waterman reported for what they wanted to know:

Why is the United States in so much debt?

Do you ever wake up scared that something will happen to your family because you’re the President of the USA?

Why are you sending troops across the sea if it has nothing to do with us or is going to affect our country?

Why are people in debt and what will you do to help them?

What is your life like? Is it fun? Is it tiring?

Is being a president stressful?

Who inspired you to be what you are now?

What inspired you to be the president of the United States?

What middle school did you go to?

What do you like to do in the White House?

How do you sleep at night with everything you have to worry about?

Why did you run for President?

Do you like classical music?

Who do you want your pastry chef to be?

Can you convince my mom to give me an Ipod or a Pandora bracelet?


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