June 07, 2016

Udall, Vitter Hail Passage of Landmark Chemical Safety Reform, Now Headed to the President's Desk

New law will overhaul broken system, protect children, families from dangerous chemicals

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) announced Senate passage by voice vote of a final agreement on their landmark bipartisan legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The final legislation, titled the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, will overhaul the current broken law, which has allowed tens of thousands of chemicals - including hundreds that Americans come into contact with in daily life - to go on the market without any evaluation for safety. With Senate passage, the agreement is now headed to the president's desk, and the president is expected to sign it soon.

The legislation is named for the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who was a champion for TSCA reform until he died in 2013. The final agreement merges policy priorities from a bill that Udall and Vitter co-wrote with a related House bill. The agreement passed the House last month by an overwhelming vote of 403-12.

"Passage of this bill in the Senate means that for the first time in 40 years, the United States of America will have a chemical safety program that works -- that protects our families from dangerous chemicals in their daily lives," Udall said. "Most Americans believe that when they buy a product at the hardware store or the grocery store, that product has been tested and determined to be safe. But that isn't the case. Americans are exposed to hundreds of chemicals. We carry them around with us in our bodies - even before we're born. Some are known carcinogens; others are highly toxic. But we don't know the full extent of how they affect us because they have never been tested. And without a working federal safety program, states like New Mexico have no protection. When this bill becomes law, there will finally be a cop on the beat. I want to thank my partner in this effort, Senator Vitter, and all of the cosponsors and advocates who have pushed to get this bill passed and sent to the president's desk. This is a historic day, and a fitting way to honor Frank Lautenberg's years of work for a healthier and safer environment for our children and grandchildren."

"Today's victory is a culmination of years of hard work and dedication from both sides, and I know that the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will provide the real reforms necessary to fulfilling Frank's legacy," said Vitter. "After four decades of living under a stagnant chemical safety law, I am so very glad to have passed a law that strengthens our country's international competitiveness, provides desperately needed regulatory certainty for industry, and mandates that the federal government use better science and provide more transparency. This law will be a game changer for the safety of our families and communities and will help promote economic success in an industry that is of paramount importance to Louisiana. I know Frank would have been pleased with this huge historic accomplishment."

The agreement is the first-ever reform of the 40-year-old law, which was intended to regulate the safety of all chemicals manufactured and used in commerce. The last of the major environmental laws of the 1960s and 70s to be updated, TSCA was broken from the start, and rendered virtually useless by a court decision in 1991 that blocked an attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban asbestos. Since 1976, the EPA has been able to restrict just five chemicals, and has prevented from going to market only four of the hundreds of chemicals produced each year. Because the law is broken, tens of thousands of chemicals, including known carcinogens -- from asbestos to flame retardants, and from BPA to PFOA (a chemical in teflon) -- have been on the market for decades without being evaluated for safety and without meaningful regulation or restriction.

The new law will:

-Require the EPA to protect the most vulnerable people: children, the elderly, pregnant women, and chemical workers.

-Give the EPA new authority to order testing and ensure chemicals are safe, with a focus on the most risky chemicals, such as known carcinogens and those with high toxicity.

-Ensure the EPA reviews new chemicals before they go on the market.

-Provide the EPA with resources to do its job and require that industry do its share to support the program -- providing $25 million a year.

-Set mandatory, enforceable deadlines for the EPA to act.

-Allow all states multiple ways to act on chemicals, including unfettered authority on chemicals where the EPA is not acting, and options for state co-enforcement and waivers from federal preemption where the EPA has acted to restrict a chemical.