Friday, October 10, 2014

Chemical companies back new laws but less regulation

Chemical giants want stronger federal law

Chemicals used in products need to
be regulated more, experts say.
The powerful chemical industry is putting its lobbying muscle behind legislation that would establish standards for chemicals used in products from household goods to cellphones and plastic water bottles – but also make it tougher for states to enact their own regulations.

Many states already have acted on their own.

“Rather than be picked apart on a state-by-state basis, with different regulations, we needed to have a coherent and cohesive federal system,” said Anne Kolton, spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council.

The group, which represents Dow, DuPont, BASF Corp. and 3M, spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in the first half of the year, the most recent reporting period.

There’s widespread agreement that the current law needs an overhaul.

Chemical manufacturers aren’t required to develop new data on toxicity and exposure, which has led to products containing chemicals that haven’t been screened for safety.

The President’s Cancer Panel said in 2010 that act “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.”

But a big sticking point is the role of the states in regulating chemicals.

Regulation of chemicals took on new urgency after a crippling spill in West Virginia last January contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents. The chemical in the January spill, crude MCHM, is one of thousands not regulated under current law.

West Virginia, which has not aggressively regulated chemicals, supports the Senate bill. It would require safety evaluations for all chemicals and give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to take action against chemicals deemed unsafe – ranging from labeling requirements to a ban. It would also overtake some state regulations – primarily when EPA takes action to regulate a chemical.

California, by comparison, has some of the toughest chemical regulations in the country.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is fighting to preserve state regulations. She said under the bill, states “face sweeping pre-emption even when there is no meaningful action by the federal government.”

In a letter to Congress last year, California EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez said dozens of California laws and regulations would be at risk if the bill passes, including those regulating greenhouse gases and safe drinking water.

New York’s attorney general has raised similar concerns. Regulation by states such as California and New York can have a national impact because of their large markets.

Several of ACC’s larger members, including Bayer Corp., DuPont and Dow Chemical, lobbied on the Senate bill in the first half of the year. Connie Deford, Dow’s director of product sustainability and compliance, said the company supports the framework of the Senate bill.

“We believe it’s critical for our industry that we have a stronger federal chemical management system than where we sit today,” Deford said.

Outgunned financially, environmentalists have sometimes used star power to help illuminate their cause, but that hasn’t been enough to overcome industry opposition. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition had teamed up with actress Jessica Alba to promote different legislation. The bill never got a vote in Congress.

In an interview, Alba said she can’t compete with lobbyists.

“You can have certain public figures go in and advocate and raise a red flag and put a spotlight on an issue, but at the end of the day, it’s people that are there day in and day out, that are pounding the pavement,” Alba said.

Source: The Journal Gazette

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