Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer
Full EPW Committee Markup
April 28, 2015
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Colleagues, this is the Environment Committee -- not the board room of the chemical companies. That is why I am pleased that with the 179-page Vitter amendment we are witnessing the death of S. 697 that we have held hearings on and, according to a prize winning reporter, was written on the computer of the American Chemistry Council. I ask unanimous consent to place that news article in the record.
That bill is gone, and I give my deepest thanks to the many public health organizations, environmental organizations like the Environmental Working Group, NRDC, Safer Chemicals, the Breast Cancer Fund, and Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, nurses, physicians, the media, and individuals like Deirdre Imus, Linda Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer. Those individuals and organizations put S. 697, the original bill, front and center and, despite its beautiful name, saw it for what it was.
It was a bill that would harm our people with, as Senator Whitehouse called it, a death zone. The death zone is the period when states cannot act to address cancer-causing chemicals even when the federal government has done nothing to put safeguards in place. Thanks to all of you who were so strong, and particularly those who stood by my side at several press conferences.
So now in the Vitter amendment, we see fixes to preemption of state air and water laws, co-enforcement of chemical restrictions by states, and removal of a harmful provision that would have undermined EPA’s ability to restrict the import of dangerous chemicals from foreign countries.
When several colleagues offered to negotiate changes, I said yes. Senators Whitehouse, Merkley and Booker worked hard to try to improve the bill. I know, because I spoke to them almost every day this past week. They came through on those fixes I mentioned, and I thank Senator Vitter and Senator Udall for agreeing to them.
In the amendment, we are still left with a death zone of at least five years, where states are shut out. What could happen during that time? New scientific evidence could show that a chemical causes significant harm to women and children. But instead of acting to address that threat, states would have to wait as long as five years while EPA studied the chemical. During that five-year period, there is a list of conditions that could easily and readily be used to deny any waiver. Further, they would have to go through a complicated and confusing process that virtually guarantees court action before they would be allowed to act.
The House bill does not have this kind of preemption provision; a chemical must actually be regulated before preemption can occur. That's the way it should be, and we have a chance to make that all important fix in the Gillibrand amendment. I hope we will. We all talk about the rights of our states to act in the best interests of their citizens. Then prove it today and vote to end preemption as the House bill does. Let's not have Big Brother tell the states they have no right to act to protect their citizens.
When our states act, all states benefit. Here is an example of that: Minnesota took the first steps to ban baby bottles made with bisphenol A (BPA), the State of Washington took the lead on restricting the use of brain-toxic lead and cadmium in children’s jewelry, and my home State of California spearheaded the effort to restrict the use of cancer-causing formaldehyde in wood products. The entire nation benefitted from all of these states’ actions.
I don't understand why any specific action on asbestos was left out of the new Vitter amendment. Asbestos is one of the most dangerous substances known to humankind -- it takes 10,000 lives a year -- and yet there is no mention of it in the Vitter amendment.
The new Vitter amendment also left out any action on cancer clusters, and we will have an amendment to address that. There are still many parts of this bill that need fixing, and I urge my colleagues to keep working to make this bill better.
I ask unanimous consent to place into the record letters and statements from organizations that oppose final passage of the Vitter substitute in its current form without passing strong perfecting amendments, and those who cannot support the bill in its current form without passing strong amendments, including the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition, which represents 450 environmental, labor, and public health groups; the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization; AFL-CIO; Environmental Working Group, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the Center for Environmental Health. I look forward to making this chemical safety bill better by amendment, but if we don’t pass the amendments I will vote no.
As the bill takes authority to address dangerous toxic chemicals away from states and gives it to the federal government, some want to handcuff the EPA from using the best available science when developing its regulations. S. 544, the so-called Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, would impose arbitrary, unnecessary, and expensive requirements on the scientific information that EPA relies on to protect human health and the environment. It would also hinder scientific research by forcing the EPA to release confidential personal information about study participants.
I ask unanimous consent to place in the record letters and statements from organizations that oppose the bill, and those who cannot support the bill in its current form without passing strong amendments. I want to note that the Obama administration has issued a veto threat on an identical House bill.
Thank you, and I look forward to making this chemical safety bill better.