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Congress Strengthens Toxic Substances Control Act in Rare Bipartisan, Pro-Environment Move

By Nithin Coca

According to the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the bill, which passed the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama soon, is the first major environmental legislation in over two decades.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, championed by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Republican David Vitter (La.). The former is a recognized environmental champion. The latter? A major surprise, as Sen. Vitter is a member of a party which has, too often, allowed empty rhetoric and special interests to dominate over science. One of his colleagues brought a snowball in the Senate chambers, as a prop to ignore climate change.

The key thing that this bill does is allow regulators access to information needed to ensure the safety of products in commerce, while also being able to safeguard confidential business information. It also empowers the Environmental Protection Agency, which strongly supported the bill, to better evaluate, manage and assess risk-associated chemicals in our market. It even sets time-bound deadlines for the EPA to take action.

This is important, because we live in a world where over 90 percent of manufactured goods include at least one chemical. Forty years ago, when the Toxic Substances Control Act was first passed, this was not the case, which is one reason why the outdated bill was in dire need of updating. This law has the potential to have a real impact in making our environmental cleaner.

Perhaps one reason the bill passed with such diverse, bipartisan support is that it was supported not only by environmental nonprofits like EDF, but by many in the business community as well, who understand that clear, safe regulations can actually benefit them too.

“This legislation will offer the kind of predictability, consistency and certainty that manufacturers and the national marketplace need, while also strengthening oversight and providing consumers with more confidence in the safety of chemicals,” said Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, in a press statement.

The bill was named in honor of former New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who spearheaded its progress in the Senate up until he passed away in 2013. While passing such an important bill is a major step, all is not said and done, of course, because now comes the hard part – making the law work and ensuring our environment is free of deadly chemicals.

“Implementing the new law will take the same level of hard work and dedication it’s taken to get us to this point – and that will be a real challenge in an area fraught with contention and conflict,” said Richard Denison, a lead senior scientist at EDF, in a blog post.

Still, the EPA now has a new tool in its arsenal to protect us from dangerous chemicals. Let's also hope that this also becomes a blueprint for how Republicans and Democrats can come together on environmental issues. Because I hear there's this really big challenge, climate change, that could use some major Congressional action (and a majority of Republicans agree).

Image credit: Lynn Betts via Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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