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By Pat Rizzuto
May 26 — An anticipated May 26 Senate vote on legislation to overhaul the nation's primary chemicals law was blocked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The bill “includes preemption of states. It includes a new federal regime, which would basically supersede regulations or lack of regulations in Louisiana or Texas or Oklahoma, and so I think it deserves to be read, to be understood, and to be debated,” Paul said in floor remarks.
“This bill came here on Tuesday,” Paul said Thursday, May 26.
“It involves new criminalization,” he said. “I object to just rushing this through.” Paul said that he would not approve of the measure being considered under unanimous consent rules in the Senate.
The bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576), would update the core provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act for the first time since 1976 by providing the Environmental Protection Agency additional authorities Congress had intended to give the agency four decades ago, senators said during floor remarks May 25.
The legislation sailed through the House with a 403–12 vote May 24 (see related story).
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, sought to “hotline” the bill with a May 26 Senate vote, meaning it would be brought up under unanimous consent procedure.
Under the process, the bill would be deemed passed unless a single senator objected, which Paul did.
The provisions of the bill to which Paul objected “have been with us six months—not two days—that’s exactly what we voted on in December, you can’t ask for more time than that,” Inhofe said in a floor reply to Paul.
Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who spent more than two years working with groups holding distinctly different political views, were joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)—a past opponent of the legislation—in floor speeches urging colleagues to back the bill.
H.R. 2576 achieved a goal Republicans and Democrats have worked for since 2013, Vitter said on the floor.
It achieves “two absolutely necessary objectives. One, to make sure we fully protect the health and safety of all Americans with respect to the chemicals that are in products that we use every day. That’s paramount. That has to happen,” Vitter said.
“And two, to make sure we do it in such a way that allows American companies to remain science and innovation leaders in this important sector of our economy,” he said.
The American Chemistry Council echoed Vitter's point in its statement: “We are sincerely disappointed that Senator Paul has decided to stand in the way of efforts to provide greater certainty and clarity to industry while holding EPA to strict accountability and transparency requirements. Senator Paul’s decision to block final passage of legislation to bring chemical regulation into the 21st century is putting the brakes on common sense policy that will have far-reaching benefits for America’s economy and public health. We hope Senator Paul will quickly reconsider his position.”
Boxer said, “I'm hopeful this can be resolved, because this bill has been the most complicated, difficult and emotional journey that I have ever had in the United States Senate.”
Through the work of many organizations and lawmakers, Boxer told colleagues on the Senate floor, the bill was transformed from “a disaster” to something “that I believe is better than current law.”
Reforming TSCA, she said, “Isn't about a theory. It's about our families” and getting epidemics of cancer, reduced IQ, obesity, fertility problems and other disease epidemics under control.
Udall said “getting here has taken years.”
“It takes work. It takes patience, and it takes compromise. The end result is a strong regulatory program to test and regulate chemicals,” Udall said.
The House vote provided “the largest margin for a major environmental bill in decades, and I believe the Senate very soon will follow suit,” he said on the Senate floor.
“We’re going to have a full court press to do it right after we get back,” Udall later told Bloomberg BNA.
Inhofe said: “We know this thing is going to pass. We know when we get back it will pass.”
When the Senate returns in June, Inhofe said, the Senate's leadership will work to have H.R. 2576 taken up without any amendments and debated for up to three hours.
With the assistance of Dean Scott, Ari Natter and Brian Dabbs in Washington, D.C.
To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com
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