Bicameral, Bipartisan Deal Reached On Major Toxic Chemicals Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and a bipartisan, bicameral group of Congressional leaders have announced an agreement on the first major reform of toxic chemicals regulation in decades. 

This agreement puts Congress on the cusp of finally passing historic legislation to reform the nation’s broken chemical safety law. Following a 1991 court ruling that declared the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t have the power to ban even asbestos and gutted the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal government has been largely unable to protect Americans from toxic chemicals sold in everyday products and used in manufacturing.

“For decades, the federal government of the most powerful nation in the world has been virtually powerless to protect its own citizens from toxic chemicals in everyday products,” Merkley said. “Now, finally, we are on the cusp of a momentous change that will do much more to protect the health of every American. This bill is a monumental improvement over current law, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get it to the President’s desk imminently.”

The final legislation agreed upon by Senate and House negotiators is titled the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act and merges policy priorities from S.697, which Merkley helped negotiate and that passed on Dec. 17, 2015 in the Senate, and H.R. 2576, which passed on June 23, 2015 in the House. 

Merkley was a leading negotiator in ensuring that states maintain the right to protect their own residents when the federal government does not act. Last year, the Oregon legislature passed the Toxic-Free Kids Act, major state-level legislation to protect children in Oregon from toxic chemicals in products that are marketed to or intended for children.

Other members involved in the final agreement provided the following statements:

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee

“I am proud to be a part of this bicameral, bipartisan solution to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and enact the largest piece of environmental reform since the 1990s Clean Air Act amendments,” Inhofe said. “TSCA is the only environmental law that has not been addressed by Congress since its enactment. For the past year, the Senate and the House have been working tirelessly to reach this final solution to fix a 40-year-old broken law. Along the way, core elements of the bill have received support from more than 150 outside groups representing a wide spectrum of stakeholders, to include state and federal government leaders, environmental activists, American manufacturers, and the oil and gas industry. This commonsense reform of TSCA will now provide regulatory certainty across America that will support the creation of more than 700,000 new jobs and more than $293 billion in permanent new domestic economic output by 2023. This historic piece of legislation also improves the safety of everyday products, from household cleaners to the material used to make our automobiles. I am hopeful that Congress will act swiftly to send this bill to the President’s desk.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking member of EPW Committee 

“This bill was the most difficult bill I have ever worked on,” Boxer said. “Finally, we have a product that is better than current law and worthy of Frank Lautenberg’s name.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), lead Democratic sponsor of S.697

“This landmark reform is a major improvement over current law. It will overhaul a law that has been broken from the beginning and do what TSCA should have done in the first place — ensure there is a cop on the beat keeping us safe,” Udall said. “The new law will protect the most vulnerable, ensure EPA is testing all new chemicals and has the authority to take action if chemicals are unsafe, and it will provide EPA with resources — contributed by industry — to do its job. I want to thank Bonnie Lautenberg, and all of my colleagues who have helped get us here, especially Chairman Inhofe, and senators Vitter, Markey, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Carper, Coons, and Boxer, and all of the advocates who pushed so hard to get this done. We are steps away from finally being able to protect children and communities from dangerous chemicals.”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), lead Republican sponsor of S.697

“It certainly wasn’t easy, but after several years of working with a bipartisan coalition, I’m proud to announce that we’re approaching the goal line to pass critical chemical safety reform,” Vitter said. “Our bill will better protect our families and communities and also allow American manufacturers to continue leading the world in innovation. Moving forward with the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is a big win for public safety, health and our economy, and in the coming days, I’ll do everything in my power to get it over the goal line.” 

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of E&C Subcommittee on Environment and Economy and sponsor of H.R. 2576

“This breakthrough, bipartisan bill is the culmination of a multi-year, multi-Congress effort to modernize our outdated chemical safety laws, and a lot of long hours went into getting us to where we are today” Upton and Shimkus said. “This bicameral agreement represents a vast improvement over current law and takes a thoughtful approach to protecting people all across the country from unsafe chemical exposure while setting a new standard for quality regulation. It’s good for jobs, good for consumers, and good for the environment. We’re looking forward to the House and the Senate taking swift action and getting this bill signed into law as soon as possible.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.), assistant minority leader

“We have long known that our nation’s chemical regulatory system is broken,” Durbin said.  “We also know that these chemicals accumulate in the environment and can cause cancer, neurological disorders, and impaired reproduction.  Infants and young children are particularly at risk. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency currently lacks the authority meaningfully regulate dangerous chemicals and keep them off the market.  This bipartisan, bicameral agreement significantly strengthens EPA’s ability to protect Illinoisans and all Americans from these harmful substances.” 

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), chairman of EPW Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight

“Today’s bipartisan, bicameral effort to modernize and reform TSCA has been a long time in the making,” Rounds said. “Unlike every other major environmental law on the books, TSCA has never been properly updated by Congress since its enactment in 1976. The reforms made by the House and Senate today will help to make sure South Dakotans and all Americans are protected from harmful toxic chemicals. They will also create much-needed regulatory certainty for businesses and manufacturers across the country.” 

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of EPW Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight

“Generations of Americans have been exposed to dangerous chemicals for decades while the statute to regulate them was paralyzed and in dire need of updating,” Markey said. “With the passage of TSCA reform legislation we will finally give EPA the authority it needs to regulate the toxic chemicals that have put our families, first responders and environment at risk. This legislation represents the kind of bipartisan commitment, married with compromise, that yields important, long-lasting policy improvement. Enormous credit is owed to the tremendous efforts made by Senators Udall, Vitter, Inhofe and Merkley and our colleagues in the House of Representatives and their staffs. I am proud to have worked alongside this bipartisan group of lawmakers who rolled up their sleeves to reconcile two bills into one final product that I believe will protect the health and safety of the people of Massachusetts and the entire country.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J)

“I fought hard to secure these long-overdue improvements to America’s primary chemical safety law — strengthening EPA’s ability to regulate toxic chemicals, providing EPA with dedicated funding, giving more scrutiny to new chemicals before they come on the market, and minimizing animal testing when scientifically reliable alternatives exist,” Booker said. “It has been a long process but today is a big step closer to the finish line. I’m encouraged that we were able to come together to find agreement on chemical safety reform through a bill that honors the legacy of Sen. Frank Lautenberg and will help keep American families and children safe from toxic chemicals.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)

“The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act includes commonsense reforms to overhaul our chemical safety laws for the first time in forty years,” Capito said. “The product of months of negotiations, this legislation will protect American families while providing a consistent regulatory framework for businesses and manufacturers across the country. I am pleased to work with my colleagues to get this bipartisan, bicameral bill across the finish line and to the president’s desk.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

“Today, our country is closer than we’ve been in decades to reforming our broken chemical safety laws, and I’m very proud to support the bipartisan and bicameral agreement we’ve reached on TSCA reform.” Carper said. “Over the past forty years, our country’s outdated and inadequate chemical safety laws have put the public at risk for toxic exposure and left the private sector with a broken regulatory process that undermines innovation. This solution will better protect our public health while creating a manageable regulatory framework for American businesses and innovators. Reaching an agreement to overhaul our country’s toxics law was possible only because both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress have worked together to compromise on policy without ever compromising our principles. I thank Senator Udall for his leadership and tireless efforts alongside Senator Vitter and Chairman Inhofe to make this bipartisan, bicameral solution possible. I look forward to voting on this bill soon and getting it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Ida.)

“In addition to the critical reforms to statutes that regulate chemicals in commerce, this legislation includes ‘Trevor’s Law’ that advances our effort to more effectively battle cancer by enhancing how federal agencies identify and treat cancer clusters,” Crapo said.  “‘Trevor’s Law’ was inspired by cancer survivor Trevor Schaefer of Idaho, who has been relentless in his efforts to enact the bill.  I introduced ‘Trevor’s Law’ several years ago with my Democratic colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer, and we have worked together to develop the bipartisan support needed to advance this extremely important next step in our war against cancer.”

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

“For decades, our main federal chemical safety law has failed to protect us from toxic chemicals,” Whitehouse said. “This deal isn’t perfect, but it will do a far better job keeping dangerous chemicals out of our environment and our bodies.  It will also provide certainty for businesses like Rhode Island’s Hasbro, which have been dealing with a hodgepodge of state regulations that make it tough to plan and grow.”

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), ranking member of E&C Subcommittee on Health

“Our nation’s primary chemical safety law is broken, leaving our most vulnerable community members, such as children and expecting mothers, in harm’s way of unsafe chemicals,” Rep. Green said. “Our bipartisan, bicameral proposal will close the gap in the TSCA’s shortcomings by requiring the EPA to protect our most vulnerable from unsafe chemicals.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Col.), ranking member of E&C Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

“Right now, a badly outdated system is letting harmful substances come to market virtually unchecked by the EPA,” Rep. DeGette said. “We can’t let that happen anymore.  Negotiations have produced better legislation. Now’s our chance to protect the public from dangerous chemicals after decades of inaction.”