One step forward, two steps back. That's how some Illinois environmentalists describe new federal rules on toxic substances that could limit the state's own protections.
Congress this week sent a bill to update the Toxic Substances Control Act to President Obama's desk. It's the first update to the act in 40 years, and expands the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to study and test thousands of chemicals.
But Abe Scarr, director for the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, PIRG, says the proposed rules would also place new restrictions on how states can manage potentially toxic chemicals.
"It does take some good steps in the right direction," he says. "It creates a better framework for toxic chemical regulation, which is sorely, sorely needed. But in the process of doing that, it had set a ceiling on what states can do, and we think federal regulations should be a floor, not a ceiling."
Scarr says Illinois has passed laws that protect families from toxic chemicals in consumer products. He says those moves would be undermined by the new rules, if they're made law by the president.
The new toxics rules will allow the Environmental Protection Agency to work through a backlog of tens of thousands of untested chemicals. But the agency will only be required to assess 20 chemicals at a time.
Scarr is hopeful this is just the first step in enacting stronger protections in the future.
"It has been decades since Congress has taken action to improve our federal toxic laws," he says. "So, hopefully, now that we've become unstuck we'll be able to continue improving our toxic laws at the federal level and create even stronger protections for consumers."
Environmental protection advocates are asking Obama not to sign the new rules. Instead, they are urging lawmakers to revise the proposal to keep state authority intact.