A powerful voice in chemical regulation passed away yesterday. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), 89, served in Congress for over 30 years. He started the Toxics Release Inventory program, wrote the Senate version of the Community Right to Know law and authored the Clean Air Act’s air toxics provisions. Describing current law as “toothless,” Lautenberg responded to the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion with a bill to make chemical reporting violations a federal crime. In May, Lautenberg and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a bipartisan bill that would make the first major changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act since 1990. They said the bill would strengthen consumer confidence in chemical safety while permitting further innovation.
The bill, with its strong bipartisan nature and support from the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, could be his final legacy. (The chemical industry criticized one of Sen. Lautenberg’s previous attempts at TSCA reform for standards that they saw as unattainable.) Yesterday Senate aides said legislators will push to pass the current bill before the August recess, though the legislation faces an uncertain future in the House.
But Lautenberg’s death could also make it more difficult for Democrats to pursue their environmental agenda, diminishing their majority to 54 seats, and giving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the chance to appoint a Republican replacement.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.