Senator Udall: With Committee Passage of Chemical Safety Bill, We are Big Step Closer to Law Protecting Kids from Chemicals

U.S. Senator Tom Udall issued the following statement after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 15-5 to move his bipartisan Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to the full Senate:

“I want to thank all of the members of the committee for their thoughtful consideration of our legislation to finally overhaul the failed 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. I especially want to thank Senators Whitehouse, Merkley and Booker for their work to improve key protections for consumers and to give states greater power to restrict chemicals and enforce laws.

“This isn’t a perfect bill, but it is a very good one. For years, I supported the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s chemical safety bill. We even passed it out of the EPW Committee. But despite his hard work and advocacy, it could never get the bipartisan support needed to bring it to the floor. He laid the bipartisan groundwork for this bill by working with Senator Vitter. Two years later, our bill has significant bipartisan support, and momentum continues to grow because the American people want a law that protects them and their families from chemicals like asbestos, BPA, formaldehyde, styrene, and so many other hazardous substances.

“We cannot let this opportunity to protect our kids from dangerous chemicals pass us by. Every year, almost 1,000 new chemicals come on the market. The Environmental Protection Agency is not regulating any of them. In fact, in 39 years, EPA has restricted just five chemicals. States are trying to fill the void, but they aren’t able to do much more. In seven years since it created a regulatory program, California has only begun the process of writing rules for three. New Mexico and most other states have little or no ability to test and regulate chemicals. We need a national solution. We need a strong national law. And we need the EPA to be the cop on the beat.

“Passage of this bill in committee is a major step forward for New Mexicans and all Americans. The next step is passage by the full Senate. I strongly urge senators to support it so we can clarify the law for everyone involved — and finally ensure our families and our communities are safe.”

Udall wrote the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act with U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). It ensures the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the ability to regulate and ban dangerous chemicals for the first time since 1991, when a court ruled that the EPA could not even ban asbestos. The bill is named for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who for years led efforts to reform TSCA, and it has the support of Lautenberg’s widow and numerous advocates for health, environment and labor.

The Udall-Vitter bill dramatically improves current law by requiring EPA to consider only the health and safety impacts of a chemical — never the cost or burden to manufacturers — when assessing chemicals for safety. It ensures special protections for those most vulnerable from chemicals — defined in the bill as pregnant women, infants, the elderly and chemical workers. It sets a new fee so chemical companies will bear a larger share of the cost of evaluating and regulating chemicals. And it provides certainty in the law about when states may step in if EPA does not act to regulate or ban dangerous chemicals.

The compromise agreement with Democratic U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), announced Monday, addresses concerns that had been raised about the legislation, including when state actions would be preempted by the EPA and how states would be allowed to enforce the law. The changes strengthen protections for American consumers by making it clear that states may act to regulate a chemical if EPA misses required deadlines. The agreement also ensures that states will get waivers to act on chemicals while EPA is evaluating them for safety. And it makes clear that states may co-enforce the law, with the condition that penalties may not be collected from both the state and the federal government for the same violation.