Rand Paul’s bad chemical reaction

Gee, thanks, Sen. Rand Paul for laying out Kentucky’s welcome mat to chemical companies eager to escape regulation. More pollution and cancer are just what we need.

In a speech Tuesday, Paul declared: “If California inappropriately regulates your chemicals, charge them more and by all means move! We'd love to have your business in Kentucky.”

The occasion was final passage of the first modernization of federal chemical safety laws in 40 years. This quiet triumph of bipartisanship and collaboration between industry and environmentalists left Paul sputtering because chemical makers not only sought but expect to profit from more effective regulation.

The old law is so weak and outdated that public confidence in chemical-product safety eroded, threatening sales. Thousands of commonly used chemicals have never been reviewed for safety. As more links between chemical exposure and disease were established, states enacted protections for their citizens, subjecting the industry to a patchwork of rules that the new law will help standardize.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act cleared the House 403-12 on May 24.

Paul blocked a Senate vote for two weeks so he could read it. The Senate on Tuesday approved the bill on a voice vote; the president is expected to sign it.

In an anti-government diatribe before the vote, Paul said that he had found much to worry him in the legislation. Kentuckians should read Paul’s floor speech. What stands out about it is the large gap between the world of theories in which Paul so confidently resides and the one in which most of us live.

One example: Paul describes the Texas coast, where he grew up, and the Louisiana coast as “havens” of “reasonableness” that have enjoyed “a mutually beneficial relationship with the chemical industry.” Paul is oblivious to the chemical coast’s reputation as Cancer Alley or to Houston’s toxic legacy. Maybe the libertarian bubble softens the chemical sting. Paul bemoans that regulation-averse, “friendly” states like Texas and Kentucky will lose their competitive advantage over tyrannies like Vermont.

And what arrogance: Paul’s lecture makes clear that he thinks he knows better than the industry what the industry needs. “Nothing perplexes me more or makes me madder than when businesses come to Washington to lobby for regulations. And unfortunately, it is becoming the norm not the exception.”

Paul fails to grasp, or doesn’t care, that lax regulation puts responsible businesses at a disadvantage with competitors that are willing to cut corners on safety.

Paul, who is being challenged for re-election by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, also tees up the old “war on coal.” He warns that granting more power to the Environmental Protection Agency will do to the chemical industry what he says the EPA has done to coal mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Paul tells business to punish regulation with higher prices, but ignores the effect of cheap natural gas on the demand for coal.

Paul insists that the new law “pre-empts the Constitution’s intentions for the federal government,” leaving Kentuckians to wonder:

If protecting children and pregnant women from toxins that accumulate in the environment isn’t government’s role, what is?