WASHINGTON — The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act is the first major update to environmental legislation in two decades, overhauling the process for regulating toxic chemicals, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to ban substances like asbestos, and limiting the secrecy around those chemicals after 10 years,
But that's not the only reason why President Obama chose to sign the bill Wednesday in a public ceremony at the White House: It's also a rare example of bipartisanship from a Congress widely seen as unable to agree on much of anything.
The bill passed the House 403 to 12 and the Senate by voice vote.
"I want the American people to know that even in the current politicized environment here in Washington, things can work," Obama said before signing the bill into law. "If we can make this bill work, it means that somewhere out on the horizon we can make our politics less toxic as well."
The bill took so long to pass that it's chief architect and namesake, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, died in 2013 before it could be passed. But in the end, it had the support of industry groups like the American Chemical Association and S.E. Johnson, and from advocates like the March of Dimes and the Environmental Defense Fund — all of which attended the signing ceremony.
"You don’t get all these people in the same room without a few late nights on Capitol Hill," Obama said.
The previous law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, was passed during a golden era of environmental legislation that also included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
But Obama said the law proved to be ineffective, with the EPA using it to ban just five of 62,000 chemicals then on the market.
The new law allows the EPA to evaluate chemicals already on the market and preempt some state laws to provide greater uniformity.
Obama also signed five other bills privately Wednesday, including a reform of Indian trusts managed by the Department of the Interior, the renaming a Veterans Affairs clinic, an authorization for federal law enforcement officers to carry firearms while laid off, a transfer of federal land in Lassen County, and a pipeline safety measure allowing the Department of Transportation to restrict hazardous pipeline facilities.