Sweeping chemical regulation bill before President Barack Obama _lowres

AP Photo by J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE -- U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., joined by, from left, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Bonnie Lautenberg, widow of the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., talks May 19 about bipartisan legislation to improve the federal regulation of chemicals and toxic substances during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, who announced this week that he would not seek reelection, is a towering figure among environmentalists, clean energy advocates and those seeking urgent action on climate change. Not exactly the sort of record that would play well in many parts of Louisiana.

So it’s worth noting that one of Udall’s most significant accomplishments in Congress happened thanks to an unlikely partnership with Republican former U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named for the Democratic New Jersey senator who died shortly after introducing it. Carried by the bipartisan team of Udall and Vitter, the carefully crafted compromise “creates a predictable and transparent federal system to regulate the safety of chemicals based on the latest science, providing greater regulatory certainty to the chemical manufacturing industry and striking a balance between state and federal roles in chemical safety management,” according to a Udall press release issued at the time.

The idea almost died with Lautenberg, according to a story in the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, before Udall took up the mantle. 

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“I still don’t know quite how he pulled that off,” Vitter is quoted as saying. “I still don’t quite know what the magic dust was.”

Alas, the magic dust seems to have dissipated. Vitter left Congress in 2017 and is now a Washington lobbyist. Last year, E&E News reported that the former senator was representing the chemical industry and battling with Udall over whether the Trump administration is properly implementing the measure they jointly wrote.

“Their quick retreat from common ground to familiar opposition positions is an indication to policy experts that the TSCA reform deal was an extraordinary agreement that would be impossible to make today — and one which is now being viewed very differently by the lawmakers who pushed to enshrine it in law,” the E&E report noted.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.