Sen. Barbara Boxer of California is privately lobbying fellow Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee against a toxic chemical bill negotiated by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg in the weeks before his death.
The bipartisan legislation is viewed by many close to Lautenberg as a legacy piece for the late New Jersey Democrat. It would revamp nearly 40-year-old chemical laws, a goal Lautenberg pursued for years before he died June 3 at the age of 89.
But internal division over whether the bill is strong enough led committee Democrats to schedule a Thursday meeting to discuss the measure that Lautenberg negotiated with Republican David Vitter of Louisiana and Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
That trio announced at the end of May it had reached a compromise on the measure, and three of the top four Senate Democratic leaders have signed on as co-sponsors. But the fate of the bill is now largely in the hands of Boxer, the chairwoman of the committee of jurisdiction.
The measure would update the original law from 1976 and would institute comprehensive chemical safety regulations by requiring all chemicals to be screened for safety and labeled according to their potential risk to human health or the environment. Among other provisions, the legislation also would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to take action against a chemical found to be unsafe, either through tougher labeling or bans on that chemical.
One particular issue of concern to Boxer, whose home state of California has rigorous toxic chemical laws, is that the weaker Lautenberg-Vitter bill would pre-empt local laws.
Beyond the merits of the bill, however, Boxer and her staff also have questioned Lautenberg’s capacity to agree to the legislation in the final days of his life, according to multiple sources, including senators.
According to these sources, Boxer has been engaged in senator-to-senator conversations and has argued that Lautenberg either didn’t sign off on the final language or wasn’t in a position to, given the illness that ultimately took his life. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is one of 20 co-sponsors of the Lautenberg-Vitter bill and one of the members whom Boxer spoke to directly.
“She raised it to me, and I’m glad she did because I assumed Frank signed on, but I understand the circumstances when it happened.” Durbin said in an interview. “I looked at [the bill] again, and there are two parts of it that trouble me. The first part is the pre-emption of state standards. The second part is the elimination of private causes of action. So I’m going to stay with the bill, but before I would vote for it, I’d have to see those two [issues] addressed.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.