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Obama enacts first update to toxic chemicals law in four decades

By Doug G. Ware
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Obama enacts first update to toxic chemicals law in four decades
President Barack Obama speaks before signing H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. The legislation gives the Environmental Protection Agency the right to obtain more information about a chemical before approving its commercial use, and improves on current chemical testing and usage in consumer products. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed the first major environmental legislation in two decades, giving the Environmental Protection Agency greater authority to ban dangerous chemicals.

In a public ceremony at the White House Wednesday, the president signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The law overhauls the process for regulating toxic chemicals.

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The bill, named after late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, was passed by a House vote of 403-12 and a voice vote in the Senate.

"Back in the 1960s and '70s, Americans were becoming increasingly concerned with the fact that our natural resources and our communities and our health were threatened by pollution and toxins," Obama said, noting that landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were passed at the time.

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However, Obama said, laws intended to regulate toxic chemicals have not worked the way they were supposed to. Since the Toxic Chemicals Control Act was passed in 1976, only five of 62,000 chemicals have been banned.

The new law, the president said, removes the bureaucracy and complex obstacles of the 1976 law and makes it easier for the EPA to do its job and outlaw dangerous substances.

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"For the first time in 20 years, we are updating a national environmental statute. For the first time in our history, we'll actually be able to regulate chemicals effectively," Obama said. "And we're doing it in the same, overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion as happened with those pillars of legislation to protect our air, and our water, and our wildlife -- the initiatives where Democrats and Republicans first came together to pass laws more than four decades ago."

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The new law will allow the EPA to review chemicals already on the market as well as new substances developed by businesses.

Obama signed five other bills privately on Wednesday -- a reform of Indian trusts managed by the Department of the Interior, renaming a Veterans Affairs clinic, authorization for federal law enforcement officers to carry firearms while laid off, a transfer of federal land, and a pipeline safety measure.

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