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A Chemical Safety Bill From 'Senator Formaldehyde'? | Commentary

Given that history, it’s not surprising that red flags went up at the Environmental Working Group and many other organizations when Vitter unveiled a chemical policy reform “compromise” bill co-sponsored with the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., who for nearly a decade had championed efforts to reform the TSCA that the environmental and public health communities strongly supported.

Those initial concerns over the proposal rolled out by Senator Formaldehyde turned out to be right on the mark. Earlier this summer, my colleague David Andrews, Ph.D., delivered a thorough critique of how Vitter’s bill would benefit the chemical industry — and fail the public.

Earlier in my career, when I worked for several members of the Senate including Lautenberg, a former boss passed along one particularly valuable piece of advice on the art of negotiation in Congress: “Always start from your strongest possible position and work down.”

But what Vitter and his allies want is for the American people to swallow the weakest possible position in terms of public health and environmental protection before the negotiations on TSCA reform have even begun.

The fact is, legislation seldom improves significantly — at least in terms of the public interest — when it’s debated in committee.

That’s why it’s essential that any bill that is brought before the full Environment and Public Works Committee start out with broad support from the public interest community, which will require a dramatic rewrite of Vitter’s bill to address the problems that Andrews and other experts have identified.

Happily, there is good news for those of us concerned about exposures to toxic chemicals. The chairwoman of the committee is Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who is arguably the strongest defender of environmental protection and human health to wield that gavel in a generation.

Boxer notified Vitter and other members during a hearing late last month that she would take charge of moving any TSCA reform legislation through the committee, which as chairwoman is her right and responsibility.

It’s imperative to maintain a focus on not only the failings of the existing federal law but also the pitfalls of adopting Vitter’s bill in its place. It’s also important that the public interest community vociferously support Boxer as she works with other leaders to bring strong chemical safety legislation to the floor of the Senate that reflects the desires of the American people and of Lautenberg, her longtime friend and ally whose entire career was spent protecting people — not the formaldehyde and petrochemical industries.

Alex Formuzis is the vice president for communications at Environmental Working Group.

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