It's really a shame that agreement by Republicans and Democrats in Congress on a piece of legislation is worthy of a special mention.
The divisiveness in the nation's capital has made such occasions too few and far between.
But last week, bipartisanship actually reigned. More importantly, the bill that passed muster should go a long way toward making the American public safer, if government carries out the legislation's mandate.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday added its stamp of approval to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which is a badly needed update to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The legislation for the first time regulates tens of thousands toxic chemicals used in a multitude of everyday products ranging from household cleaners to clothing and furniture, The Associated Press reported. The bill passed the U.S. House in May, and President Obama intends to sign it into law, the White House has said.
When enacted, the legislation will require the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a new, risk-based safety standard that includes considerations for particularly vulnerable people such as children and pregnant women, according to the AP. It also contains deadlines for the EPA to act and makes it more difficult for industry to claim chemical information is proprietary and therefore secret. The bill also sets new standards for asbestos and other dangerous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, styrene and Bisphenol A, more widely known as BPA.
It may come as a surprise, but the EPA currently has little authority to evaluate the safety of chemicals and only a fraction of the chemicals used in a variety of products have been reviewed. This legislation should change that.
U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, both of West Virginia, were co-sponsors of the measure, and both had a reason specific to the Mountain State for backing a law that will provide a better handle on chemicals used in business and industry. That was the Freedom Industries chemical leak into the Elk River near Charleston in 2014 that tainted the water supply of about 300,000 people for several days. Little was known about the chemical - a coal-cleaning agent - that tainted the water. The Lautenberg Act includes a provision that prioritizes the review and regulation of chemicals near water sources.
One factor working in favor of the legislation was broad support from a variety of special interests, including the chemical industry itself, which said it was difficult to deal with widely different state regulations regarding chemicals. It preferred more uniform standards across the country, although states with their own chemical laws already in effect will be allowed to retain those. Public health groups and many environmental groups also backed it, although some environmental groups said it didn't go far enough.
Overall, though, the legislation is a significant step forward in safeguarding the public and will bring many widely used chemicals under review for the first time. This was a good bill for attracting agreement among both Republicans and Democrats.