If you ever worry about what the modern chemical industry puts in your water, soil or food, it might be a comfort to know that there’s a law called the Toxic Substances Control Act. It’s supposed to empower the Environmental Protection Agency to, you know, protect our environment. The problem is, since this law was enacted in 1976, “the EPA has reviewed only about 200 chemicals and restricted just five.”

In one of the excellent features in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, journalist Heather Rogers takes a critical look at the current congressional effort to update the Toxic Substances Control Act and asks: “Should Obama sign it, or wait for the next president to get a better deal?”

One hint at an answer comes simply by knowing that Louisiana Senator David Vitter is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. But it gets worse. A lot worse.

Environmental organizations and health advocates are pleased with the Senate bill for its expansion of EPA power, although they’re sharply critical of other provisions. It’s encouraging that [Sen. Tom] Udall [D-NM], who helped lead the fight against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is working to overhaul the TSCA. But it’s unsettling how much he and his dozen or so Democratic cosponsors are willing to give away. The bill’s favoritism to industry is apparent upon seeing which Republicans are on board. Along with its coauthor, Vitter, a longtime friend to petrochemical interests, over a dozen Republicans have signed on as cosponsors, including Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who is ever loyal to the oil and gas industry and a self-proclaimed enemy of the EPA. Inhofe is also notorious for his belief that climate change is a hoax. He chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee and is flexing his influence to hasten the bill’s passage.

You could be forgiven for simplifying your decision here by concluding that anything that Sens. Vitter and Inhofe are for, you are automatically against. But then there’s the pesky issue of Sen. Tom Udall and those “dozen or so” other Democratic co-sponsors.

To get a lay of the land, you really ought to read the whole article. Trust me, the topic is sexier and more interesting than you might at first think. For example, why are “Petro-chemical behemoths along with the Republican Party’s anti-environmentalists…joining a gaggle of Democrats to support a bill that stifles state control to centralize power on the federal level”?

Might it be that the “law…could effectively disable chemical restrictions, making protections even weaker than they already are”?

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com