“What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Those words came from Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund, and they describe an eventually successful fight to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, a law, which for 40 years, virtually paralyzed the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate America’s chemical industry.
That old law, TSCA, was so badly in need of updating that reforming it became a joint project of environmental advocacy groups like the EDF and chemical industry trade associations like the American Chemistry Council and the US Chamber of Commerce, not to mention some of the most liberal and most conservative members of the US Senate and House.
In an era when the phrase bi-partisan legislation was going the way of the dodo into extinction, Republicans like Senator David Vitter and Congressman John Shimkus and Democrats like Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Frank Pallone joined forces the get reform bills passed, reconciled and passed again. All that’s needed now is President Obama’s already promised signature and the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act will become the law of the land.
Lautenberg, a liberal Democratic Senator from New Jersey started pushing TSCA reform years ago, and died three years before his dream came true. The fact that his name remains on the legislation is another symbol of the almost unheard of civility surrounding the final weeks and months of struggle to make the bill a law.
Not everyone likes the final product. But, as EDF advocate Denison put it: “this bill, though it gives no one everything they want, stands to markedly improve the status quo.”
A lot of the consensus around that judgment has to do with how wretched a piece of regulatory law the 1976 TSCA was.
Jason Plautz is an energy and environment correspondent for National Journal.