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Senator Faults Bill on Toxic Chemicals, Imperiling Effort

A bipartisan measure on federal toxic chemical standards would undercut state efforts, the head of a Senate committee said in comments that may imperil a compromise to overhaul U.S. consumer-safety regulations.

Senator Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said legislation worked out by Republican David Vitter of Louisiana and Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who has since died, has flaws “endemic” throughout and needs far-reaching revisions.

“If we don’t fix these problems, we’re not going to have a bill, because too many states are objecting to this,” Boxer said today at a hearing on toxic-chemical oversight. “States are the laboratory of democracy, and federal standards should set a floor, not a ceiling.”

The compromise measure unveiled in May after years of disagreements would require safety testing of new chemicals, and give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to ban chemicals, such as those used in detergents, flame retardants or building materials. It would be the first major environmental protection measure since the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990, and revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act deemed broken by most experts.

“Let’s not seize defeat from the jaws of victory,” Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who said he backs the measure, said today in response to Boxer’s criticism.

Vitter and Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said they would propose clarifying language for the compromise measure to make sure it wouldn’t unnecessarily preempt state protections.

Chemical Industry

The measure is backed by the American Chemistry Council, which represents companies such as Dow Chemical Co. and 3M Co., and has qualified support from environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, which is pushing for stronger oversight of the industry. Other health and safety groups oppose the bill, in large part because they say it lacks compliance deadlines, would tie EPA in knots setting up new frameworks and limit lawsuits against chemical makers.

“The committee should reject this bill or amend it in ways that make it more protective of human beings and the environment and less protective of the chemical industry,” Thomas McGarity, a scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform, said in prepared testimony.

The legislation would require that every chemical in commercial use be analyzed and labeled as either a high or low risk. The EPA would then conduct safety tests for materials that pose a high risk to health. It also gives the agency the authority to take action -- including a ban -- against chemicals deemed unsafe, and it would require testing of new chemicals entering the market.

The industry is backing increased regulation as it deals with mounting consumer concerns about the safety of products.

The bill is S. 1009.

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