Chemical safety bill picks up support in Senate

Chemical safety bill picks up support in Senate

A bipartisan bill to reform the federal government’s chemical safety oversight now has 36 co-sponsors, split equally between the two political parties.

Six of the bill’s backers celebrated the addition of 14 new co-sponsors from across the political spectrum and the country at a Thursday news conference.

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They said the bill, dubbed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, is a rare example of senators working together and compromising on legislation toward a common goal.

“This is a big deal, this isn’t just another news conference,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThis week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the original co-sponsors.

“This is the first major environmental law that is being drafted and will be passed since the amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990,” he said.

“You don’t see this group gathered together very often,” said Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.), the main Democratic sponsor, pointing to strange bedfellows like Inhofe, Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-R.I.) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick MORE (R-La.) and himself.

“But I think it speaks to the incredible progress we’ve made on the legislation we’re working on together,” Udall said.

Udall and Vitter have been the main forces behind the effort in recent years to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which dictates how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests, regulates and bans toxic chemicals.

The main feature of the new legislation is that the EPA must only consider health and safety in how it regulates chemicals, and may not consider the costs to industry.

The bill’s Republican backers conceded on a number of fronts recently to gain more Democratic support, including giving states the opportunity to regulate chemicals on their own if the EPA misses deadlines and to enforce the law itself in some cases.

“As a former attorney general," Whitehouse said, "it was really, really important to me that the attorneys general be allowed to co-enforce this act on behalf of their states, and we achieved that.”

“It was also really important to me that a regulatory death zone not emerge in which no one anywhere in government was capable of regulating a toxic chemical. And that has been cured,” he continued.

Vitter said he and Inhofe met Thursday morning with Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —Biden unveils health care plan | Proposal pitches subsidies, public option | Biden vows if you like your health insurance, 'you can keep it' | Sanders protests planned Philadelphia hospital closure MORE (R-Ky.), and while McConnell did not set a date for the bill’s floor vote, they felt he understood the importance of the measure.

“I certainly can’t speak for Mitch, but it was a very productive discussion, and he recognizes how significant this is and what a positive, bipartisan accomplishment this will be,” Vitter said.

Vitter is running this year to be governor of Louisiana, which he admitted adds to the urgency of getting the bill passed this year.

He believes the bill would easily obtain a filibuster-proof 60 votes if it gets a floor vote.

The Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill last week. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, voted against it, as did most of the Democrats.

The House is also working on chemical reform, although leaders there have allowed the Senate to take the lead on it.