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Albuquerque Journal: Panel back’s Udall’s toxic chemical bill

Sen. Tom Udall’s attempt to overhaul the nation’s chemical regulations got a big boost Tuesday when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 15-5 to advance the legislation after several Senate Democrats successfully pushed for changes to the bill.

The legislation, which aims to overhaul the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, would require the Environmental Protection Agency to make its assessments about chemical safety based only on measures of risk to public health and the environment. The bill also would scrap the existing law’s “least burdensome” requirement for regulating a chemical, which has long prevented a ban on asbestos. It also would hike fines from $25,000 to $37,500 per violation on chemical companies that break the law.

On Monday evening, Udall and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the bill’s primary Republican co-sponsor, agreed to several compromises pushed by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The three Democratic lawmakers were concerned about provisions that would allow the EPA to pre-empt state chemical regulation and state enforcement of the proposed federal law. The now-amended bill would give states authority to regulate a chemical if EPA missed required deadlines.