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How green is Arnold? [UPDATED]

Monday, September 29, 2008

[UPDATE} Monday aternoon, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill discussed below. postcard_final.jpgThis year only one chemical ban bill made it through the California Legislature to Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk: Senate Bill 1313 by Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro. The bill, sponsored by EWG, would make California the first state in the nation to ban the toxic chemicals PFOS and PFOA -- nonstick compounds also used in the manufacture of Teflon – from food packaging such as french fry bags and popcorn boxes.

We'll know the bill's fate today or tomorrow, the deadline for Schwarzenegger to sign or veto legislation for 2008. As of 6 p.m. Sunday, he had signed 163 bills and vetoed 225, with 341 remaining on his desk.

Public health advocates and professional Arnold-watchers are looking to the PFOA/PFOS ban as a test of the governor's green credentials. Over the past two years, Schwarzenegger has been hailed as an environmental hero for committing the state to an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas reductions. But his green record doesn't yet include much in the way of action against specific toxic chemicals.

Instead, he's pushing the Green Chemistry Initiative encompassed by a package of bills including Assembly Bill 1879, by Assembly Member Mike Feuer of Los Angeles. The bill, which in its current form was actually written by the governor's office, sets out a process by which state agencies will review chemicals with health risks and phase out the worst ones in favor of safer alternatives. Sounds great, but the plan creates an almost insurmountable series of hurdles for chemicals under consideration, and gives the chemical industry a lead role in suggesting and developing alternatives. No wonder the industry supports it.

Many of EWG's strongest California allies support the bill, but we fear it will ask too much of already-overtaxed public health agencies. It's clear that the bill will become law, so we'll have to see if it's one step forward or two backward.

In the meantime, we're doing everything we can to tell the governor that SB 1313 doesn't undermine the Green Chemistry approach, but bolster it by declaring that when the evidence is strong that a chemical endangers public health, as is the case with PFOA/PFOS, the state won't wait for the bureaucratic process. Last week, we sent him the signatures of nearly 1,300 Californians urging him to sign the bill. And you can still do so here.