March 18, 2015

Opening Statement of U.S. Senator Tom Udall at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

WASHINGTON - The following are the remarks as prepared for delivery of U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) at today's hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about his bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which would reform the broken and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act.

It's nice to be back with you all today. I was proud to serve for many years with you all as a member of this committee. And we all served for a long time with our former colleague, the late senator Frank Lautenberg.

We all remember Senator Lautenberg's passion for chemical safety reform. He spoke so often about his children and grandchildren and the need to do something about this broken law. For the longest time in his career there was tremendous standoff. Most of my Democratic colleagues recall voting in favor of his bill, the Safer Chemicals Act-which unfortunately failed to advance past that vote in 2011.

I supported that bill enthusiastically but it received no Republican support in Committee and had no Republican cosponsors. There was a failure to find agreement between public health and industry groups and between Democrats and Republicans.

But in his final days in the senate, he worked very hard to find compromise with the opposing side-and he put his idea of perfection aside because his aim was clear-to actually protect our children, to protect the most vulnerable, and to reform a broken law.

The original Lautenberg-Vitter bill was introduced quickly. Many of its provisions needed clarification and improvement. Senator Vitter and I have been working to improve this bill-and frankly these changes have almost all been on the public health side of the equation.

We have been open, we have been transparent, and we have been inclusive. Everyone was invited to the table to comment on the legislation and provide feedback and suggestions.

Senator Vitter and I are not accustomed to working together on environmental issues. We come to the table with different ideas and we came to this issue with different priorities. There were times when negotiations broke down.

But we always came back to the table because we shared a fundamental, bipartisan goal-to cut through the noise and finally reform this broken law.

I think we all agree. TSCA is fatally flawed. It has failed to ban even asbestos. EPA has lacked the tools to protect our most vulnerable - infants, pregnant women, children, and the elderly. Compromise is a great challenge-and a tall order. But I am here because in my heart I believe this bill will do the job. I believe we have the opportunity to actually reform a law and improve lives.

And that is the challenge now for this committee-to ignore the rhetoric and focus on the substance. Work through the legislative process.

There are still voices out there with concern. I hear them and I want to engage with them constructively. But hear my concern as well. New Mexico and many other states have very little protection for our citizens.

EPA estimates the cost of evaluating and regulating a chemical-from start to finish-is at least $2.5 million dollars. It's a figure that many states cannot afford-especially with 80,000 chemicals in commerce and hundreds of new ones every year. We cannot leave the people of my state-and so many others-unprotected.

It's been forty years since we first passed TSCA. There has never been a bipartisan effort with this much potential.

Before I close, I do want to address something up front, and in the open. Criticism of the substance of this legislation is legitimate, from both sides. It is a compromise product.

But I urge everyone participating in this hearing today to reject attacks on anyone's integrity, character, and motivations.

Unfortunately I've fielded a few of those in recent weeks. They do not concern me, because they are absurd and unfounded. But they do a serious disservice to the legislative process.

Instead, I urge this hearing to have a great-and spirited-discussion on the substance. But at the end of the day, let's not wait another forty years to finally move forward.