Senate committee holds hearing on Udall-Vitter TSCA reform bill.

Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a legislative hearing on the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” the proposal to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) introduced last week by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

Lawmakers heard from Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, widow of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who said that her husband wanted chemical safety reform to be his “final, enduring legacy,” and warned that opposing the bill would “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Other lawmakers and witnesses also emphasized compromise and pragmatism in supporting the legislation. Sen. Vitter called the proposal “the only realistic shot we have at reforming a very broken and dysfunctional system.” Environmental Defense Fund Senior Scientist Richard Denison’s testimony [PDF] characterized Udall-Vitter as “a solid compromise that fixes the biggest problems with our current law” and “the best opportunity ever to reform” TSCA. Sen. Udall called for compromise, approvingly cited today’s New York Times editorial making recommendations for the bill, and suggested that it might be possible to compromise on changes such as co-enforcement, the timing of state preemption, and the minimum number of chemicals to be reviewed.

EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Jim Jones testified that the agency has no position on the Udall-Vitter bill, but that the legislation is consistent with the Obama Administration’s “essential principles” for TSCA reform.

As expected, the issue of state preemption emerged as the main focus of debate during the hearing. In his testimony [PDF], Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh called the legislation an “evisceration of state authority.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who occupies Sen. Lautenberg’s Senate seat, called the bill’s preemption provisions “a serious problem.”

At today’s hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) voiced her opposition to the Udall-Vitter plan, saying in her opening statement that the bill “fails to provide the public health protections needed and is worse than current law,” and noting opposition from over 450 organizations, including Attorneys General from eight states, the Environmental Working Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the United Steelworkers.

Senators Boxer and Edward Markey (D-MA), who introduced a competing plan last week, continued to argue for their proposal’s key points and critique the Udall-Vitter bill. In a press conference yesterday, the Senators said that amending the Udall-Vitter bill to incorporate elements from their proposal would make the legislation acceptable. These elements include nixing state preemption, setting tighter deadlines for EPA action, and directing EPA to regulate asbestos and persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals.

Sen. Boxer also claimed that the proposed legislation was drafted by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a major industry lobbying group, although Sen. Udall’s staff disputed this, saying that input was taken from the ACC along with other stakeholders, such as the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

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