Congress passes strong TSCA reform, first major environmental legislation in over two decades

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Today, the truly remarkable happened:  The U.S. Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act with strong bipartisan support and sent it to the President, who is expected to sign it into law.  The bill came to the Senate floor tonight by unanimous consent and passed on a voice vote.  Senate passage follows the House’s passage of the same bill by a margin of 403-12 on May 24.

What a long, strange trip it’s been.  There were many false starts and blind alleys along the way, and more twists and turns than the Steel Dragon 2000.  It took years of work by many Members and their incredibly dedicated staff to reach this accomplishment.

From the outset, it seemed that this effort would succeed only by finding a bipartisan path forward, and then working to both move and improve the bill.  For EDF, that strategy seemed essential to building both the support and the momentum needed to get a bill of this magnitude to the President’s desk and signed into law.  The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the bill’s namesake, started us down this path:  He had the political courage to reach across the aisle and the foresight to envision getting to this moment.  

It continued with the willingness of his odd bedfellow, Sen. David Vitter, to co-sponsor with Sen. Lautenberg the first bipartisan bill – and then agree to make changes to improve the legislation and address key concerns.  After Lautenberg’s death, Sen. Tom Udall’s willingness to step up was vital, as was Sen. Jim Inhofe’s willingness to make the bill a priority when he became chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and to co-lead further negotiations that led to more improvements and increased support.

Many other members engaged in both improving and moving this legislation over the last few years.  In the Senate, Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Ed Markey, Dick Durbin and Barbara Boxer each provided critical help at key points along the way.  The House process was much quicker but equally bipartisan.  Representatives Fred Upton, Frank Pallone, John Shimkus, and Paul Tonko worked to get a bill through the House, and Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Diana DeGette and Gene Green joined them to help get a final deal through the bicameral negotiations.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama Administration lent a big helping hand at several key points.  Their 2009 Essential Principles for TSCA Reform set important benchmarks for reform.  Former Administrator Lisa Jackson, in a memo issued her first day on the job, made clear that TSCA failed to provide the agency with the tools needed to do its job and that reform was a key priority.  That commitment was renewed by Gina McCarthy, and Assistant Administrator Jim Jones and many other EPA staff provided critical technical assistance all along the way.  Just before House passage, the White House issued a strong Statement of Administration Policy calling the bill “landmark reform” that “is a clear improvement over the current TSCA and represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law.”

I’ve already blogged about how this bill, though it gives no one everything they want, stands to markedly improve the status quo under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  I’ve also provided more detailed analyses here.

Of course, in many ways the real work now begins:  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.

But one step at a time.  And today’s step was a huge one.


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  1. J. C. Davies
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Congratulations Richard. Your wisdom and patience were key to passage. Finally we have a legislative framework that begins to allow the type of regulation envisioned more than forty years ago.Implementation will be very difficult. The elephants in the living room will be resources and risk trade-offs. The mastodon in the garage is cross-media integration. But notwithstanding, you have my thanks, gratitude, and respect.


    • Richard Denison
      Posted June 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Terry: Thanks so much — your view means so much, especially given the role you played in creating a broad vision for TSCA. I share your perspective on the pachyderm-sized challenges that lie ahead, but at least we’re started in a new direction.
      Best, Richard

  2. Susanne Frank
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to you and the entire team. Thank you for your steady vigilance.
    Susie Frank

    • Richard Denison
      Posted June 10, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Suzanne: Thanks very much! The road getting here has been rocky, but the urgency of getting a new and better law were what kept us going!
      Best, Richard

    Posted June 8, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    As a long time strong Advocate with CLEAN WATER ACTION, Coalition For A Safe & Healthy CT I stand in applaud those that finally supported this long overdue protective & prevention TSCA bill for America’s children and families.
    Chemical exposures without testing has flooded our consumer markets for decades and our most vulnerable continue to suffer death threatening diseases. (The Precautionary Principle used in the European Union has proved essential in the well being of generations).
    Thank you Richard Denison for your scientific proust and a ‘step forward’ and President Obama for your plan on signing this health bill for our nation!

    • Richard Denison
      Posted June 10, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Joyce: Many thanks for your words of support — now we face the equally challenging task of ensuring the law is implemented in a strong manner!
      Best, Richard