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.
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 InhofePowell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Senators slam Pentagon officials Generals contradict Biden, say they advised leaving troops in Afghanistan 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 UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.M.), the main Democratic sponsor, pointing to strange bedfellows like Inhofe, Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Sen. Whitehouse blasts Alito speech: 'You have fouled your nest, not us' MORE (D-R.I.) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic 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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats tee up Senate spending battles with GOP The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Treasury to use extraordinary measures despite debt ceiling hike 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 BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator 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.