ACI 2014: TSCA reform, fuel subsidies key priorities for soapers

22:26 PM | January 29, 2014 | Vincent Valk in Orlando

Managing TSCA reform as it makes its way through Congress and ensuring that fuel subsidies do not adversely impact oleochemical prices are key priorities for the cleaning chemicals sector, industry leaders said today ACI's Issues Briefing in Orlando. The event was part of ACI's annual convention, which continues through the end of this week in Orlando, Florida. Other issues, including state regulation, emerging rules for anti-bacterial hand soaps, and sustainability initiatives, were also discussed at the briefing.

TSCA modernization is the number-one legislative priority for ACI in 2014, says Michael Heltzer of BASF, chair of ACI's government affairs committee. Like other industry groups, including ACC and Socma, ACI believes the coming months present a unique opportunity to make TSCA reform – a key concern of both industry and regulators for years – a reality. The current Senate bill, The Chemicals Safety Improvement Act of 2013, has 25 bipartisan cosponsors and “represents the best chance we've had yet to move meaningful TSCA reform,” Heltzer told attendees at the conference. “It has momentum and the support of many trade groups. This is an opportunity to make this process work.” A similar bill is currently working its way through the House of Representatives, with the energy and commerce committee “favorably inclined” to move it to the floor, Heltzer notes.

ACI is working with Congress to ensure that any TSCA reform is “credible, implementable...risk based, and efficient,” Heltzer says. The industry is also working to make sure that the bill includes protection for confidential business information (CBI) and trade secrets. Speakers at the ACI issues briefing were mostly optimistic on this front. The Senate bill “retains, and in some cases enhances” existing CBI protections under TSCA, says Brian Del Buono of Sun Products, chair of ACI's legal committee. “But that could change during the legislative process,” he adds.

Another key issue for soapers is maintaining full access to the tallow market, says Dale Steichen of AkzoNobel, outgoing chair of ACI's oleochemical committee. ACI is advocating the elimination of the phrase “animal fats” from both EPA's renewable fuel standard (RFS) and from biodiesel tax credits. Both of these programs drive tallow towards use in biofuel production, rather than oleochemical production. The latest round of biodiesel producer credits expired on 1 January, however, Congress could renew them at any time. “The predictability of tallow prices goes back and forth as the federal government turns on and off fuel subsidies,” Steichen says. Sometimes, when subsidies are reintroduced, they are retroactive, and sometimes they are not, he adds.

New state regulations are another cause for industry's concern. In California, the Safer Consumer Products (SCP) regulations will introduce a new system for regulating chemicals in consumer goods. The rules were the subject of as separate session at this year's ACI meeting. The system will require manufacturers of targeted substances to use, or develop, inherently safer alternative technologies, or to defend their use of targeted substances in a lengthy, and costly, review process. Substances that are not replaced with safer alternatives may be banned. California authorities will, by 1 April, choose five products or product categories to target initially, based on hazard assessments of 166 “chemicals of concern.” These may include home and personal care products, however, it is not currently known which products or categories will be chosen. Many observers consider it likely that the list will include chemical-product combinations, such as bisephenol-A (BPA), in baby bottles, about which there is already widespread public concern. California authorities will “end up adding a voice to the chorus wanting to regulate substances like BPA and phthalates,” says Herb Estreicher, partner Keller and Heckman (Washington), a law firm. California wanted to regulate other products, such as formaldehyde in carpeting, however, these do not show up on existing hazardous chemicals lists, Estreicher says. Such lists were used to generate California's chemicals of concern list, he adds.

Maine, Washington State and Minnesota have also enacted state-level chemicals management programs. Other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Florida, and considering such legislation. ACI is monitoring these developments, which utilize a variety of different chemicals management methods, according to Heltzer.

ACI members also discussed industry-led sustainability efforts and voluntary disclosure initiatives. The group announced at the show that it is expanding its hazard database, which includes over 900 chemical ingredients in cleaning products. The database is voluntary, and will be expanded to include exposure assessments by the end of this year. ACI also launched a sustainability charter in an effort to encourage member companies to work towards common sustainability goals and metrics. “We want to show unified movement” on sustainability, says Martin Wolf of Seventh Generation, chair of ACI's sustainability committee.