Lawmakers near compromise on chemical safety overhaul

Lawmakers near compromise on chemical safety overhaul
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House and Senate lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a compromise chemical safety overhaul bill.

Senators from both parties told reporters Thursday that the deal is almost done and will be introduced in the House within days. That would allow Congress to pass it and put it on President Obama’s desk by the end of next week.


If everything goes as planned, it would wrap up years of talks and more than a year and a half of legislative negotiating toward reforming the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has been widely panned as ineffective at protecting the public from harmful chemicals.

“We are on the cusp here of delivering an agreement, which is a major agreement, in terms of protecting the health and safety of American families,” said Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.), who led talks for Democrats on TSCA reform since Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died in 2013.

Lautenberg was an advocate for TSCA reform, and the final bill will be named after him.

“I, too, am really excited about this positive accomplishment,” said Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick MORE (R-La.), who led the GOP side of the effort.

“For decades, literally for decades, all stakeholders on this issue agreed that this area of federal law had to be updated and reformed. It wasn’t serving its purpose adequately; it wasn’t protecting the public; and it was creating uncertainty, which endangered American companies continuing to lead in innovation that makes all our lives better.”

The bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sweeping new authority and resources through fees to regulate and order testing of thousands of potentially dangerous chemicals. It prioritizes certain kinds of chemicals based on risks.

In return for the Democratic and environmental priorities of getting more chemicals tested, Republicans and the chemical industry got a major victory.

States, which have led in chemical regulation after a 1991 ruling that took much of the power out of the TSCA, would be largely prohibited from enforcing chemical rules under many circumstances.

“Today, we are stepping forward and telling people we are putting a law in place that’s going to protect American families, protect children, with regard to chemicals,” Udall said at the news conference with a number of other senators. "We’re putting the top cop back on the job to look at safety, and that’s the EPA.”

“I’m very excited by what we’re doing for the American people to improve public health and safety and to ensure that our American companies continue to be leaders in science and innovation — things we’re great at in America that improve Americans’ daily lives,” said Vitter.

Dan Schneider, spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that although Upton wasn’t at the Thursday news conference, he’s on board with the current deal.

“Thoughtful and effective legislating takes time, and this week’s progress underscores that hard work does pay off,” he said.

But leading House Democrats are not on board. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) and Paul Tonko (N.Y.), the top Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee and its environmental subcommittee, pulled their support from the negotiations earlier this week.

“The problem is that the Republicans have made this bill, from what I understand, that the draft that they’re proposing, is weaker than the current law,” Pallone said Wednesday. “So there wouldn’t be any point in having it.”

Pallone’s chief problem was that he thought the pre-emption of state authority went too far.

But 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.), who had withheld support for the bill up until a few weeks ago for similar reasons, said she’d negotiated acceptable changes and encouraged Pallone and Tonko to back the bill.

“I worked with Democratic members in the House as they attempted to negotiate the pre-emption provisions of this bill. I took that agreement as far as I could take it,” she said. “And we have something we can live with.”

The EPA is also on board. A spokeswoman said earlier this week that the recent drafts fit with the Obama administration’s priorities for reform and would be a major improvement over current law.