Toxic chemical deal met with mixed reactions from greens

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“Our bill strikes the right balance between strengthening consumer confidence in the safety of chemicals, while also promoting innovation and the growth of an important sector of our economy,” said Vitter, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA, in a statement.

"Every parent wants to know that the chemicals used in everyday products have been proven safe, but our current chemical laws fail to give parents that peace of mind,” added a statement from Lautenberg. “Our bipartisan bill would fix the flaws with current law and ensure that chemicals are screened for safety.”

Lautenberg has been working on updating the toxic chemicals law since 2005.

The new bill has exposed differences between environmental groups, some of which support the legislation.

“This bill is both a policy and political breakthrough," said the Environmental Defense Fund's senior scientist, Richard Denison, in a statement distributed by the lawmakers.

“At first glance, this bipartisan legislation appears to represent some progress, strengthening the EPA’s ability to protect American families from poisonous chemicals," said Ed Hopkins, the senior Washington director of the Sierra Club, in a statement to The Hill.

"This effort is a step in the right direction, but we need to complete the job by acting to keep harmful toxics away from every American family and community as quickly as possible,” he added.

Other environmental activists worry that the legislation drops a requirement that chemical companies ensure there is a "reasonable certainty of no harm" and could slow new rules.

"We could not be more disappointed than we are to see this bill come out because it's really industry's bill," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

"This bill, instead of really protecting kids from chemicals, is going to protect chemicals from federal safety standards," he added.

Officials with the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform were also "deeply disappointed" that the bill does not include new protections for communities most impacted by chemicals.

Current regulations allow the EPA to conduct safety testing only after there is evidence that a chemical may be dangerous. The new bill would require the agency to conduct safety tests on high risk chemicals but also demands it evaluate measures in a transparent way.

Industry groups praised the measure.

Cal Dooley, president and chief executive of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement that the legislation "takes a balanced, comprehensive approach to updating the law, which will give consumers more confidence in the safety of chemicals, while at the same time encouraging innovation, economic growth and job creation by American manufacturers."

A recent report from Congress's investigative office criticized the EPA's lack of a clear strategy to update its toxic chemicals program, which it has been reforming since 2009. 

-- This story was updated at 3:36 p.m. and at 9:11 a.m. on May 23.