Health and Environmental community stand united against Udall-Vitter chemical reform bill
Kathy Attar, MPH
March 20, 2015
I recently attended a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee on Senate bill 697, also known as the Udall-Vitter bill after its two sponsors. The bill aims to overhaul how we regulate and manage chemicals in the U.S.
The hearing reflected the strong opposition to the Udall-Vitter bill from groups -- including PSR -- that represent patients and communities across the U.S. facing exposure to toxic chemicals on a daily basis in their homes, workplaces and neighborhoods and in the consumer products they use.
More than 450 organizations have voiced opposition to the Udall-Vitter bill, according to letters submitted to the EPW committee. Senator Boxer, ranking member of the EPW Committee, called out PSR as one of the health voices opposed to the bill. We certainly are concerned: this legislation would not improve our current broken system, but instead would be a windfall to industry if allowed to pass.
Other members of the committee including Senators Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sanders (D-VT) questioned some senators' support for the expanded EPA enforcement role written into the Vitter-Udall bill (unfortunately to the detriment of states' rights to pass more protective legislation). It is an odd situation, given how those same senators have tried to cut funding for the Agency. Senator Whitehouse characterized the preemption of state rights as a "death zone" because once the EPA places a chemical on the high priority list, no state can act on it, despite the fact that it could up to seven years before the EPA regulates it.
The New York Times in an editorial also raised concerns about this "preemption" policy and called for this provision to be fixed in order to have an effective regulatory program.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh testified at the hearing and criticized the bill's position on state rule-making, saying it would limit states' rights to protect their citizens. He is not alone; attorneys general from New York, Iowa, Maine Maryland, Oregon and Washington submitted a letter to the EPW committee opposing the Udall-Vitter bill.
Proponents of the bill characterized opponents as wanting a perfect bill and being unwilling to compromise. The phrase "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good" was uttered several times during the hearing.
However, it's true: We are not willing to compromise if it means endangering the health of our families and communities. And it is hard to disregard the critiques of numerous attorney generals and over 400 health and environmental groups united in believing that the Udall-Vitter bill does not adequately reform our chemical regulatory system.
Another interesting wrinkle is how the chemical industry has increased their campaign contributions over the past year. A new report issued by Maplight highlights this: the 17 sponsors of Udall-Vitter received nearly 70 percent more in donations from the top 10 chemical companies than senators who did not sponsor the bill. Senator Vitter's super-PAC, which is backing his run for Louisiana governor, received $150,000 from the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers. Senator Udall received $15,000 from the companies and organizations during the 2014 election cycle.
What can we do now to stop this bad bill? Call your Senators. Tthey need to hear that the Vitter-Udall bill places industry's concerns over public health. For example: how states rights to take protective action against dangerous chemicals would be preempted, and the lack of protection for fence-line and communities dealing with legacy chemicals. (Here's a more detailed list of the bill flaws.)
The industry has certainly made their voices heard; now it is time for the public to voice their opposition to the Udall-Vitter proposal. Take action today. Call your Senator today. The switchboard number for all Senate offices is: (202) 224-3121.