Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

The Conoco-Phillips Alliance refinery in Belle Chasse, La., is one of numerous refineries and chemical plants in the Pelican State. A Louisiana senator is pushing a bill that would pre-empt California laws in giving federal regulators more authority over toxic chemicals.

Editorial: Senate should leave California's laws as they are

Published: Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A

We Californians should overhaul our initiative system. We should update and perhaps scrap some initiatives California voters approved years ago.

Additionally, we Californians should take second looks at some of the environmental laws approved by past legislatures to make certain they make sense in 2013.

The operative words are "we Californians" – definitely not some United States senator from, of all places, Louisiana.

But as The Los Angeles Times' Evan Halper reported last week, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., reached a compromise before Lautenberg died in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would gain more authority to regulate chemicals.

That might be an important step forward for the people of Louisiana, who enjoy few state environmental protections. Some Washington consumer and environmental lobbyists hailed the Toxic Substances Control Act, S. 1009.

But the compromise could pre-empt California from imposing its own tougher environmental regulations – which probably is the point.

The Sacramento Bee fully supports granting the EPA more authority over toxic substances, but not at the expense of California's ability to regulate dangerous chemicals, pesticides, cosmetics, greenhouse gas and toxic flame retardants.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is taking the lead on efforts to bottle up the effort, to her credit. At least nine attorneys general, including Kamala Harris, are opposing Vitter's effort, as is the National Conference of State Legislatures, an important voice.

Congress is in a state of deep dysfunction. For all its problems, California's Legislature can pass legislation that, on occasion, helps the state, most notably AB 32, the 2006 legislation that seeks to reduce greenhouse gases.

The massive Beltway business lobby, including the American Chemistry Council, would dearly love to have the federal government assert its authority by limiting California's power. In many instances, California standards become the nation's standards, and that costs commercial interests.

There are many examples, including the green chemistry law, in which the Department of Toxic Substances Control could analyze common chemicals for possible deleterious effects, and the 2008 initiative approved by voters to regulate the space allotted at commercial poultry operations for chickens.

The Bee opposed that initiative. But California voters supported it by a wide margin and many California poultry operations are adjusting to it. If the good people of Louisiana or the major poultry state of Iowa don't like it, they don't have to buy California eggs or poultry, or sell their products here.

California's foie gras ban has been under attack, as are its bans on shark fin soup, restrictions on incandescent light bulbs and California's version of the Endangered Species Act.

Congress cannot see its way clear to overhaul immigration law, farm policy or gun safety. The Senate has failed to confirm judges, despite large vacancies in many states, California included. The House still fights over the Affordable Care Act approved three years ago.

David Vitter and the rest of the Beltway crowd ought to focus on truly national issues, and butt out of California's affairs.

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