Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

CA Green Chemistry Author Backs Tough Chem Regs

By Renee Sharp, Director, EWG California Office, and Bill Allayaud, California Director of Governmental Affairs

In September 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure that aimed to strengthen California’s trail-blazing Green Chemistry Initiative and transform the way that chemicals and consumer products are regulated in California.

The legislation was broadly drafted and did not prescribe exactly how the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) was to accomplish the ambitious goals of the Green Chemistry Initiative.

Because, as always, the devil is in the details, environmentalists have been watching closely and swarms of chemical industry lobbyists have been making themselves very visible as DTSC grinds through the slow process of writing the all-important regulations to carry out the initiative.

The good news:  Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the legislation’s chief sponsor, is boldly pressing DTSC to take a tougher stance.  In a November 4 letter to acting DTSC director Maziar Movassaghi, obtained by Environmental Working Group, Feuer unleashed a scathing critique of DTSC’s tentative rule-making effort, known as the “straw proposal.”

Among other things, Feuer wrote, the proposal would allow chemical companies
to regulate themselves, with “insufficient safeguards…to ensure these companies do not reach conclusions that are exclusively in their self-interest.”

Feuer warned that the DTSC plan to rely on industry to identify possibly hazardous substances was likely to backfire. By that logic, Feuer told Movassaghi, state regulators would end up rewarding companies that sit on their hands and conduct little or no safety testing. Feurer dryly observed:

“If regulatory action can only be triggered by generation of critical health and safety data, the department will find little such data forthcoming from interested parties,” meaning chemical makers.

Furthermore, Feuer said, the process contemplated by DTSC  “does nothing to evaluate the magnitude of the chemical’s hazard traits, nor does it take into account the prevalence of a chemical in commerce in California…The proposal provides no method to expedite the consideration of chemicals of concern that pose significant threats for which safer alternatives currently exist.”

Feurer complained that the DTSC plan would make it far too easy for manufacturers to obtain exemptions and escape regulation altogether. And he faulted the agency for failing to consult its own scientific advisors, a distinguished group of independent scientists known as the Green Ribbon panel.  He urged the agency to “listen closely to these exceptional scientists” as it forges ahead to develop Green Chemistry Initiative rules.

We at Environmental Working Group couldn’t agree more.  The stakes are huge, not just for Californians, but for all Americans who hope for a cleaner, healthier world.  If the Green Chemistry Initiative succeeds, there’s a good chance it will serve as a model for other states and for the federal government.

But if corporate lobbyists have their way and this unprecedented and progressive legislation is gutted, the nationwide momentum for chemical policy reform could falter.

Let’s hope California policymakers take Feuer’s advice to heart.

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