IN TODAY’S Washington, it’s strange enough to see a burst of bipartisanship. Odder still is that the unexpected cooperation might lead to the first major environmental law enacted since the 1990s.
The Toxic Substances Control Act, which was supposed to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate potentially dangerous chemicals, has been on the books since 1976. Yet it is such a shambles that, in all that time, the agency has used it to ban only five chemicals. The law allowed thousands of chemicals to stay on the market with no review, and it made the process of vetting new ones so difficult that they have been barely regulated at all. The EPA can’t even demand testing without undergoing a grueling rule-making process and demonstrating that a chemical is risky. The agency — somehow — has to provide data to get data. And even with alarming information on a particular chemical, the EPA must clear a very high legal bar to ban or limit its use. In 1991 a court threw out the EPA’s ban on asbestos, a notorious carcinogen.