WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law legislation to regulate toxic chemicals, a measure championed by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg until the day he died.
With Lautenberg's widow Bonnie and several New Jersey lawmakers looking on, Obama affixed his signature to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
"Frank was passionate about this," said Obama, who served in the Senate with Lautenberg. "For him to be able to see this legacy completed must be greatly satisfying. He's looking down on us and feeling pretty good right now."
The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to test chemicals using "sound and credible science" and impose regulations if they are shown to pose a health risk.
The EPA would set priorities for evaluating chemicals and would not first have to show they pose a potential risk. Manufacturers could ask the EPA to evaluate a particular chemical if they are willing to cover those costs.
It updates a 40-year-old federal law requiring chemicals be tested for safety. That bill prevented the U.S. government from regulating asbestos even after it was linked to cancer.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who now holds Lautenberg's seat in Washington, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th Dist.) were among those standing behind Obama on stage as he signed the legislation in an auditorium in the executive office building adjacent to the White House.
"It is truly a great testimony to not only bipartisan efforts but the legacy of Frank Lautenberg," Booker said. "That's why I rolled up my sleeves and worked even harder. I felt an extra personal obligation to get things done."
Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill would allow New Jersey to keep its tougher regulations on chemicals and would allow consumers to know whether chemicals in their products were safe.
"Without this bill, people really don't know what's harmful," Pallone said.
In the audience were Reps. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.), Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.)
Bonnie Lautenberg said after the bill signing that the bill was a top priority of the senator's.
"Frank worked very hard on this," she said "I wish he was here to see this day come. I hope he knows what happened."