Energy & Environment

Senate passes overhaul of chemical safety rules

The Senate voted Thursday to approve a sweeping bipartisan chemical safety bill after years of work and months of tense negotiations.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after the late New Jersey senator, updates the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad new powers to study and regulate harmful chemicals like asbestos, while restricting states’ individual abilities to make their own rules.

{mosads}Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) made the chemical reform bill a top priority throughout 2015, making tweaks and assurances to build a broad coalition of Republicans, Democrats, industry and safety advocates in support of the measure.

Senators approved the measure Thursday evening by voice vote after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dropped her hold on the legislation amid promises that the Senate would work to bring the bill closer to legislation passed in the House, which Boxer says provides better protections from harmful substances.

“This is an historic day on which we’ve come together to pass significant chemical safety legislation,” Vitter said in a statement.

“As we honor the legacy of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, we also move toward the future embracing these major, necessary reforms to our nation’s broken chemical safety law.”

Vitter said that despite compromises, the resulting measure is “a comprehensive, effective, thoughtful, bipartisan bill.”

The move is “a great milestone, and I thank the numerous other senators who have worked to make this day possible,” Udall said. “This bill is the product of years of collaboration and positive input from lawmakers across the country, who understand that we need a national solution to our broken chemical safety law.”

Boxer continually pushed back against the reform efforts, saying they did not go nearly far enough to protect health and the environment.

She said in a statement that the bill has greatly improved throughout the year, and that she’s optimistic that, after negotiations with the House, an acceptable bill will be made law.

“I want to assure my colleagues, my home state of California, and the people of this nation that I will stay intimately involved as the bill moves forward, and I will share my views openly,” she said.

Lautenberg had made chemical reform his top priority before his death in 2013.

The bill would eventually require testing for every chemical currently in commerce, and any new chemicals.

The EPA decisions about chemicals would have to be made solely on the basis of the impact on health and the environment, not the compliance costs.

But the legislation also has significant provisions that the chemical industry asked for, such as restrictions on what states can do on their own, which the industry said is essential for certainty and to avoid a patchwork of rules.

Health and industry groups both counted major wins in the legislation.

“Passage of the Lautenberg Act gives us the best chance in two generations to put an end to a national scandal — a dangerously ineffective chemical safety system that was broken on arrival in 1976,” said Fred Krupp, executive director of EDF Action, the lobbying arm of the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Today’s nearly universal show of support in the Senate reflects years of hard work,” he said.

American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley called the passage “a watershed moment in the history of U.S. environmental legislation,” and said the bill “will protect human health and the environment, build confidence in the U.S. chemical regulatory system and address the commercial and competitive needs of the U.S. chemical industry and the national economy.”

Before Boxer’s hold, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) had blocked quick passage of the bill in an effort to get the Land and Water Conservation Fund renewed. The government spending bill released Wednesday would do just that, so he dropped his objection.

The House passed its own chemical reform bill in June. The Senate sponsors said they plan to work with the House toward a compromise measure.

Tags Barbara Boxer chemical safety David Vitter Tom Udall Toxic Substances Control Act

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