March 18, 2015  Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey, and Tom Udall are normally eye-to-eye on most issues, especially when it comes to the environment. Now, they’re at loggerheads over the legacy of the late liberal Sen. Frank Lautenberg and a bill that would in theory enhance the power of the EPA.

Lautenberg had tried for years to update the nearly 40-year-old law regulating the chemical industry that has left the Environmental Protection Agency powerless to test or regulate the roughly 80,000 chemicals in commerce, even ones proven to be harmful, such as asbestos or BPA.

Just as Lautenberg worked with Louisiana Republican and EPA foe David Vitter, so has Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who also is the son of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall.

After two years of drafting, Udall and Vitter this month unveiled a bipartisan agreement to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, setting up minimum benchmarks for EPA to test and regulate chemicals, setting up a new user fee system to pay for it, and clearing up a lengthy backlog to allow EPA to move more quickly. Now with up to 20 cosponsors evenly split between two parties and the support of Republican Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe and the chemical industry, it would seem to have a clear path to the floor.

Immediately, the cracks on the Left began to show. The next day, Boxer and Markey unveiled a competing TSCA reform bill, saying the Udall-Vitter measure would undercut states’ ability to regulate chemicals and give the industry too much power over what chemicals EPA controls, and how the agency does it.

On Tuesday, Udall’s office brought out chemical experts to talk about his bill. Not to be outdone, Boxer and Markey held their own news conference opposing the Udall-Vitter measure with a dozen public health advocates and legal officials, including famed California activist Erin Brockovich.

Boxer’s office has been accused of leaking draft copies of the bill to drum up opposition. There were reports that she questioned Lautenberg’s state of mind when he signed the original agreement with Vitter. She’s even accused Udall and Vitter of letting the American Chemistry Council write the bill, pointing to a Word document showing that ACC had edited the file (both ACC and Udall’s office have said that just reflects that ACC had commented on the bill, as had many outside groups).

Even the bills’ names can be seen as jabs at each other. After Udall and Vitter named their bill after Lautenberg, who passed away in 2013 after decades of work on chemical reform, Boxer and Markey rolled out their own bearing the names of Alan Reinstein, who passed away after asbestos exposure, and Trevor Schaefer, who survived a brain tumor after being exposed to toxic substances.

“I loved Frank Lautenberg so much, and it’s with deep respect and a heavy heart that I say all of this about a bill that bears his name,” Boxer said.

Boxer opposed the original bill from Vitter and Lautenberg when it was introduced in 2013, and while the measure has since moved farther to the left based on feedback, and was the backbone for the new legislation, it still lacks support from key public health groups.

Asked about whether there were changes that could be made to the compromise bill, Boxer said she could “tick off 100 things that I would change.”

The rhetoric has become so heated that Udall had to plead for cooler heads at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the bill Wednesday.

By: Jason Plautz