Sen. Manchin laying low on toxic chemical bill

May 23, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Can we all agree that West Virginia’s junior Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, isn’t an especially shy guy? Given that, isn’t it a little strange that his office hasn’t really sought out attention for the senator’s key role in working out what could turn into a landmark agreement to reform the nation’s regulation of toxic chemicals?

We reported on this deal on the front page of today’s Gazette:

Lawmakers in Washington have reached agreement on a potential compromise to reform the way the nation regulates toxic chemicals, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is being credited with helping to forge the bipartisan deal.

The bill would, for the first time, require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the safety of all chemicals used in commerce. Currently, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act allows the vast majority of chemicals to remain on the market without any evidence of their safety.

The story outlined compliments from various sides for Sen. Manchin’s role in getting this done:

Over the past few months, industry officials had been aggressively lobbying Manchin, and environmental groups believed Manchin was close to signing on to Vitter’s bill, a move that would give that version a key Democratic vote.

Instead, Manchin urged Lautenberg and Vitter to try to work toward a bill they could both live with, according to accounts from citizen and industry organizations that closely followed the talks.

Manchin’s involvement “helped create a dynamic” that brought Lautenberg and Vitter together, said Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group.

“[Manchin] brought them both in and said, ‘I prefer the more conservative approach, but I’d like you guys to work this out,'” said Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Coalition, which has pushed for a strong TSCA bill.

But unlike Sen. Manchin’s work trying to find a compromise on firearm safety, the local media here in West Virginia didn’t really pick up on this story. One reason might be that Sen. Manchin didn’t really seek out any attention or news coverage.

Sure, the senator’s office posted a version of a news release — initially issued by Sens. Lautenberg and Vitter — on Manchin’s website. But the release does not appear to have been sent out via the email blasts that are used to promote other things Sen. Manchin is doing. And when I asked for a brief interview with Sen. Manchin yesterday, specifically on this topic, he didn’t have time to talk. The only other time I recall Sen. Manchin not being available for an interview was when I wanted to ask him about the growing scientific evidence linking living near mountaintop removal mining operations to increased risk of illness.

Keep in mind that this new chemical safety bill would provide increased authority to EPA, and agency that Sen. Manchin hasn’t said much good about since officials there began trying to crack down on mountaintop removal. In the meantime, Sen. Manchin’s office is making sure that West Virginia media know about another piece of legislation he’s pushing that would reverse a federal policy aimed at forcing federal buildings to reduce their use of fossil fuels. Sen. Manchin said:

We should be using all of our abundant resources—including coal—to power our nation in the most efficient way possible. Our bill accomplishes this and proves the federal government can lead the way in using fossil fuels to achieve greater energy efficiency.

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