All the trappings of legislative success: a formal signing at the White House, praise for bipartisan problem-solving, a picture in The New York Times. And we can only imagine how U.S. Sen. David Vitter felt when the Times applauded the bipartisan success story, led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico.
Tom Udall? Vitter was in the photo, in the back, but the Louisiana Republican really deserved at least a mention, because the new bill that requires safety reviews of all chemicals in active commerce was signed into law after years of Vitter's work.
The measure was rightly applauded by President Barack Obama and such influence leaders as the Times, but the retiring senator from Louisiana deserves a great deal of credit.
Vitter worked for years with the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, a liberal Democrat, to find common ground on the vexing issues raised by the nation's law regulating chemicals. Lautenberg died before the bill b
came law and it is named for him; Udall stepped into his place to make the numerous compromises and work with industries and environmentalists on the measure.
The new law is the first major overhaul in many years of chemical regulation, which is concerned with the vast array of plastics and household cleaners and mattress fillings -- you name it, the scope of this measure is enormous.
That also magnifies the issues for every kind of industry represented on Capitol Hill, from chemical manufacturers such as those think on the ground in Vitter's Louisiana to makers of all sorts of plastic products, retailers and wholesalers. Add to that the legitimate concern of environmentalists in an effective regulatory scheme, and one can see the complexity of the bill.
Testing will use a health-based standard rather than the existing “cost-benefit safety standard,” which had kept the EPA from banning asbestos, a known carcinogen. While making it more difficult for industry to keep chemical information secret, the measure also clarifies a patchwork of state rules that have grown up over 40 years leading to vastly different regulatory standards across the nation.
“For the first time in our history, we’ll actually be able to regulate chemicals effectively. And we’re doing it in the same, overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion,” the president said.
The vast scope of the bill hints at the complexity of the legislative task accomplished by Vitter in this last year of two Senate terms. He should be congratulated.