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Waxing Environmental on Rep. Henry Waxman

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After 39 years representing the great state of California in the U.S House of Representatives, Democratic Representative Henry Waxman is calling it quits.

Waxman's legislative record [pdf] is quite long and quite impressive. The bills that have been enacted from his pen and/or with his sponsorship/co-sponsorship run the gamut from the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments in the ’80s and ’90s to the Drug Quality and Security Act of 2013.

And through it all, the environment has been one of Waxman's major causes. To further that cause, Waxman chaired the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment from 1979 to 1994, and was first the chair and then the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce -- the chamber’s oldest standing committee -- since 2009.

The Waxman legislative legacy on the environment is as good as it gets.

Henry Waxman and Environmental Law

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Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), early career (U.S. LOC)
1980, 1986 and 1996 - Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act: Among other things, these laws:
  • better protect public health in part by requiring scores of pollutants to be regulated,
  • empower consumers through improved information, and
  • direct Congress to fund infrastructure improvements for drinking water systems. (More here [pdf] and here.)

1988 – Lead Contamination Control Act: This took aim at reducing lead exposure in drinking water fountains in schools and child care centers.

1990 – Clean Air Act Amendments: One of the biggest achievements of this powerful portfolio of laws was to establish a cap-and-trade system to slash acid rain pollution. And slash it, it did [pdf]. Waxman is credited with having held up the legislation for "nearly a decade until its provisions on emission controls and acid rain were strengthened" [pdf]). (See related article.) Other programs established in these groundbreaking amendments target reductions in ozone (a k a smog) and other hazardous air pollutants.

1992 – Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act: Waxman wrote this law to protect children and families from the No. 1 cause of lead poisoning -- lead paint in residential dwellings. This was achieved through requiring real estate disclosure and renovations "performed by contractors certified in safe renovation practices" in residences where there was lead paint. (Source [pdf])

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Rep. Henry Waxman from his 12th term
1996 – Food Quality Protection Act: This "established a strong health-based standard for pesticide residues in food." (Source [pdf])

2007 – Energy Independence and Security Act: Waxman was instrumental in getting provisions requiring the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions folded into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. These cuts were primarily achieved through energy efficiency requirements.

2010 – Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act: This tightened the standards on what fixtures could be considered lead-free from those whose lead levels were less than eight percent to those with levels less than .25 percent.

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Rep. Henry Waxman from his 16th term
2010 – Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act: After hearings held by Rep. Waxman brought national attention to the problem of formaldehyde levels in the FEMA trailers that served as temporary housing for Katrina victims, lawmakers wrote this law to set minimum standards for formaldehyde levels in composite wood products, such as hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium-density fiberboard.

 

2011 – Food Safety Modernization Act: This law set out to replace the status quo reactive policy with proactive policy by seeking to prevent food contamination before it happens.

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Rep. Henry Waxman from his 20th term
Establishing “science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of raw agricultural commodities," the law "requires new preventative controls for companies that process or package foods," and "gives FDA authority to order a recall of unsafe foods if a company refuses to do so voluntarily." (Source [pdf])

And we should not forget the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the one and only comprehensive climate bill to have passed in one of America's two legislative chambers. Had it passed in the Senate, where unfortunately it was never even brought to a vote, it would have established the nation's first economy-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. I suspect it will be a long time before a similar bill will see the light of day in Congress. It will be an even longer time before we see the likes of Henry Waxman in Congress.

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