- Who What Why, Celia Wexler
When Toxic Politics Clash With Toxic Chemicals
Is Trump White House Subverting New Chemical Safety Law?
Last year, Democratic and Republican members of Congress congratulated each other for what they considered to be a miracle: passage of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
The law, named after the late chemical safety crusader Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), was designed to strengthen the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), giving it more authority to regulate toxic chemicals.
It fixed many of the legal traps in the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, over its 40-year history, had so blocked the EPA that it had banned or restricted only five chemicals — out of more than 80,000 chemicals currently on the market.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who initially opposed the proposal as too weak, ultimately made her peace with the bill. Even Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, then Attorney General of Oklahoma who had sued the EPA 14 times, sent a letter to key senators praising the legislation.
The bill — a compromise with the chemical industry that resulted from years of negotiation — glided to victory in both House and Senate.
At the signing ceremony on June 22, President Barack Obama termed its passage a “really significant piece of business” that had been accomplished in an “overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, as happened with those pillars of legislation to protect our air, and our water, and our wildlife.” Obama predicted: “If we can make this bill work, it means that somewhere out on the horizon we can make our politics less toxic as well.”
Enter the Powerful Chemical Lobby
But in the ensuing months, the politics have grown more toxic. The Lautenberg law, safety advocates charge, is being actively undermined by the powerful chemical lobby. Robert Sussman told WhoWhatWhy that he suspects that the chemical industry, while paying “lip service” to the new law, which it publicly supported, is now trying to “slow walk implementation and avoid anything by the EPA that is truly threatening” to its bottom line. Sussman is an environmental lawyer and consultant who was a principal policy advisor to Obama’s first EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
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