Obama signs chemical safety overhaul into law

Obama signs chemical safety overhaul into law
© Getty

President Obama on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the nation's chemical safety standards.

The measure is the most significant environmental law in more than a quarter-century. It promises to completely revamp the way the federal government oversees thousands of potentially toxic chemicals sold to millions of Americans every day in common products.

ADVERTISEMENT

The law is dubbed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemicals for the 21st Century Act, after the late New Jersey senator who championed the concept for the better part of a decade.

“The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will make it easier for the EPA to review chemicals that are already on the market, as well as the new chemicals our scientists and businesses design,” Obama said at a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., attended by lawmakers who sponsored the bill, health advocates and Bonnie Lautenberg, the senator’s widow.

“This is a big deal. This is a good law, an important law,” he said.

The bill has been decades in the making and the result of years of intense on-and-off legislative negotiations. Obama noted that reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was a significant point of discussion when he was a senator on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee 10 years ago.

It reforms the TSCA, which numerous stakeholders had regarded for years as toothless. The TSCA prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating even the most harmful chemicals, such as carcinogenic asbestos.

Under the new law, however, the EPA now has wide-ranging authority to order testing of and regulate the thousands of chemicals that are in use, as well as the hundreds of new substances that come on the market each year. Crucially, the EPA no longer has to prove that regulating a chemical is cost-effective and only has to show that it is harmful to public health or the environment.

The law also blocks states from taking action to control chemicals, a provision that was important to get the chemical industry to support the bill but is controversial among states that had taken the lead in regulating substances.

The bill had strong, bipartisan support in Congress. It passed the House, 403 to 12, and the Senate by voice vote.

It also has the support of major business groups such as the American Chemistry Council and the National Association of Manufacturers, as well as safety and health groups like the Environmental Defense Fund.