WASHINGTON -- The Senate may pass bipartisan environmental legislation as soon as next week, and it's kind of a big deal.
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Friday announced support for a bill overhauling the country's decades-old chemical safety law, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 60.
The bill would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which has been widely panned as outdated and ineffective at protecting the public from hazardous chemicals. It would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to test and regulate chemicals, and to identify risky chemicals that should not be on the market. A Senate committee approved the legislation in April.
Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have taken the lead on the reform bill, and agreed to additional changes to accommodate the concerns of Markey and Durbin. The changes include increased funding from industry fees, which will pay for additional EPA testing, as well as faster compliance timelines for regulations. The senators said the changes are also meant to make it easier for states to move forward on their own regulations if the EPA has not issued a determination on a chemical's safety.
Markey said in a statement that the changes represent "positive and meaningful progress."
The Senate legislation has caused some tensions among environmental groups over whether the proposed changes to the law go far enough. Elizabeth Thompson, president of Environmental Defense Fund Action, said the additional changes have "further strengthened" the bill and put it closer to passing Congress. "Today we are even closer to a new law that can finally protect public health and the environment from harmful chemicals," Thompson said in a statement.
Representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, March of Dimes, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine are slated to appear with senators at a press conference in support of the bill on Tuesday.
But the Safer Chemicals, Health Families coalition, which represents a number of environmental, public health and consumer groups, said that while changes are an improvement, it remains concerned about " problematic provisions" -- especially how the bill deals with state preemption. "We believe we must do better and we hope the senators will support further efforts to strengthen the bill either on the floor or in conference," Andy Igrejas, the coalition's director, said in a statement.
There is still potential for additional changes through amendments on the Senate floor, but the bill has enough support to pass as it is. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said McConnell has said the bill "will be coming soon," but is not yet scheduled for a vote. Other Senate sources said it could come up next week, after the Senate passes the National Defense Authorization Act.
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