March 10, 2015

Udall, Vitter Introduce Landmark Legislation to Protect Our Families from Toxic Chemicals

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act fixes broken chemical regulatory scheme, ensures EPA can act based on latest science to protect all Americans

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) introduced major bipartisan legislation to protect Americans from toxic chemicals by enacting common-sense and necessary reforms to update the United States' wholly ineffective, outdated chemical regulatory program. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is the result of nearly two years of deliberations and negotiations with stakeholders, affected communities and a bipartisan group of lawmakers who believe that Americans deserve certainty that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing the safety of chemicals in the marketplace. The legislation creates a predictable and transparent federal system to regulate the safety of chemicals based on the latest science, providing greater regulatory certainty to the chemical manufacturing industry and striking a balance between state and federal roles in chemical safety management.

The current 40-year-old law governing the use of chemicals in everyday products, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is widely considered to be ineffective as it has failed to ban even dangerous chemicals like asbestos. After years of unsuccessful efforts to rewrite the law, in 2013, the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg joined Vitter to introduce the first ever bipartisan proposal to update TSCA, which the New York Times editorial board endorsed as "a significant advance over the current law." Udall joined Vitter in the effort to carry the torch and further strengthen the bill after Lautenberg passed away.

The new Udall-Vitter bill builds on and strengthens the 2013 proposal by ensuring that cost cannot be considered in determining the safety of a chemical, defining "vulnerable populations" and requiring their protection, strengthening deadlines for the EPA to evaluate existing chemicals, adding new structure and requirements for confidential business information claims, and mandating that new chemicals cannot be manufactured until the EPA has approved them.

Fifteen cosponsors joined Udall and Vitter to introduce the bill, including seven Democrats and eight Republicans.

"Americans are exposed to a toxic soup of more than 80,000 different chemicals, but we have no idea what the impact of those chemicals is on our bodies - or those of our children. Current law has failed to protect Americans from dangerous carcinogens like asbestos, and Congress can't afford to stand on the sidelines any longer," Udall said. "This bill represents the best opportunity to strengthen safeguards against dangerous chemicals and dramatically improve existing law, while allowing innovation in the industry. I've worked closely with experts, environmental leaders and community groups to craft this bipartisan proposal, and am proud that we've come to a consensus on a bill that will break the logjam and protect our families."

"The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is a hugely important step into a new era of chemical safety that will better protect our future generations while promoting innovation and growth within our economy," Vitter said. "TSCA reform is too important for consumers and job-creating businesses to not follow through, especially when you consider the fact that chemicals are used to produce 96 percent of all manufactured goods consumers rely on every day. Our legislation is a solid, balanced, bipartisan compromise that will provide the necessary reforms to our nation's most important chemical safety law."

"Frank believed that fixing America's chemical law could be his most significant legacy - in a career devoted to protecting public health," said Bonnie Lautenberg, widow of Frank R. Lautenberg. "The new bipartisan proposal from senators Tom Udall and David Vitter builds important improvements upon the solid foundation Frank laid with Senator Vitter in 2013. I strongly encourage senators in both parties to step up and help finish the job of ensuring our families are protected from toxic chemicals."

Original cosponsors include Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

Core provisions of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act:

Strengthens the Safety Standard
- Mandates that EPA base chemical safety decisions solely on considerations of risk to public health and the environment. The legislation makes clear that costs and benefits may not factor into a chemical safety evaluation.
- Eliminates TSCA's "least burdensome" requirement for regulating a chemical, which prevented EPA from banning asbestos.

Mandates safety reviews for new and existing chemicals
- Requires that all chemicals in commerce, including those "grandfathered" under TSCA, undergo safety reviews.
- Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.

Strengthens Protections for the Most Vulnerable
- Places greater emphasis on and requires protection of those who may be more exposed or particularly vulnerable to the effects of exposure to chemicals, and clearly defines them for the first time as including infants, children, pregnant women, workers and the elderly.

Sets Aggressive and Attainable Deadlines
- Imposes at least 15 deadlines for EPA action, developed with input from the Agency.

Creates additional requirements and sets reasonable limits on Confidential Business Information claims
- Requires that confidentiality claims be substantiated up front and imposes a 10-year, renewable time limit on such claims.
- Requires EPA to review claims that protect the identities of chemicals in commerce.

Preserves Existing Private Rights of Action
- Clarifies that the existing right of Americans to sue and seek damages when they believe harm has been done is not affected by the bill.
- Makes clear that nothing in the bill affects the ability of litigants to obtain confidential information in a judicial proceeding.

Balances State and Federal Regulations
- Grandfathers in state regulations on chemicals enacted prior to Jan. 1, 2015.
- States can act to restrict a chemical until and unless EPA takes up that same chemical and addresses the same uses.
- State actions that do not restrict a chemical or are taken to address a different problem are not affected.
- Includes a waiver process for states to set different regulations than EPA during the safety assessment and after a final rule.
- Once EPA acts on a chemical substance, a uniform federal standard is applied across the nation, which creates more regulatory certainty and equally protects citizens across the country.

A full overview of the Udall-Vitter bill can be found HERE. Bill text is available HERE. Supporter quotes can be found HERE.