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Udall effort on chemical laws takes us backward

A decade of pressure by parents, doctors, scientists, businesses, and state governments has created momentum to finally fix the broken federal law governing chemicals used in commerce, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which has allowed thousands of hazardous and untested chemicals to be widely used in everyday consumer products.

Unfortunately, while reform of the act is desperately needed to protect the lives of millions from harmful chemicals, efforts in Congress have now been hijacked by the chemical industry.

A new proposal by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., claims to be a step toward fixing the act. In reality, the bill could delay action on hazardous chemicals even further than the current law and give the chemical industry a free pass to continue endangering our children.

Udall’s bill also fails to address legacy contaminants and the many environmental justice communities fighting off toxic facilities or waste dumps in their neighborhoods.

While Udall has said the Environmental Protection Agency “has lacked the tools to protect our most vulnerable – infants, pregnant women, children and the elderly,” he fails to mention the disastrous impact his bill may have on the nation’s 3.8 million people living fence-line to many of these facilities, including facilities in New Mexico.

Gaping loopholes in the bill are so enormous they seem to have been left by design.

On March 6, the New York Times reported that the American Chemistry Council “spent more than $4 million during the 2014 election cycle on television and radio spots to help their allies in Congress,” including Udall.

According to the Times, “Mr. Udall had never before received a contribution from the Chemistry Council,” but during the last election cycle the industry “donated tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns and sponsored a television ad that praised his leadership.”

On March 16, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that when the electronic version of the draft Udall-Vitter bill was examined the paper found “the ‘company’ of origin to be the American Chemistry Council.”

When it comes to regulating toxic chemicals, we believe Udall should be listening to New Mexican families more than the chemical industry.

Although the bill proposes some needed improvements to the Toxic Substances Control Act, at the same time it would create new barriers to federal action and strip states of their right to restrict hazardous chemicals even if the EPA isn’t doing anything.

State leadership on this issue is essential for progress. Over the past decade, 35 states have enacted more than 150 policies addressing some of the worst chemicals in broad categories of household products.

New Mexicans can now buy furniture, televisions, infant formula, baby bottles, baby food and many other products made without highly toxic chemicals like bisphenol-A and several polybrominated diphenyl ethers because of reforms enacted by other states that caused product manufacturers to broadly phase out these toxic chemicals from their products sold nationwide. Today, New Mexico children and families are safer because of these actions by other states.

In contrast, the proposed Udall-Vitter bill would require EPA to initially review just 10 out of over 84,000 available chemicals, with no requirements or deadlines for adopting actual restrictions, using a process that will in practice take at least seven to 15 years to complete, while immediately blocking actions by states.

That’s a pretty sweet deal for the chemical industry.

We know the Toxic Substances Control Act must be reformed, but Udall’s effort would take us backward. Giving away the ability of states to protect their residents, while creating new barriers to federal action, in exchange merely for EPA review of a handful of chemicals with no guarantee of restrictions isn’t necessary compromise, it’s bowing down to the chemical industry when we need to be standing up for justice.

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