Environmentalists and industry representatives will square off at a three-hour hearing Tuesday over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long-delayed Green Chemistry regulations.
Schwarzenegger first announced his Green Chemistry initiative back in 2007. It got under way the next year.
Since then, a growing number of environmental groups have criticized the process as being too friendly to industry.
With the release of “Draft Regulation for Safer Consumer Products” by the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) on June 23, some in the environmental community are saying the initiative may be no better than inaction on the governor’s part — particularly since the Green Chemistry initiative has repeatedly been cited by the Schwarzenegger and others as a reason to oppose “chemical-by-chemical” bans.
Meanwhile, industry groups are criticizing the regulations, as well.
In a July 22 letter to the DTSC, John Ulrich, co-chair of the Chemical Industry Council of California, wrote, “Given the current economic challenges to the state and business community, the Department must be realistic and pragmatic in assigning costly responsibilities that provide little or no benefit.”
While representatives from both sides will speak at the hearing, so far it appears that environmentalists have been more outspoken in criticizing the draft regulations.
“The proposed regulations read like a chemical company’s wish list,” said Renee Sharp, director of the California office of Environmental Working Group, in a July 15 press release attacking the shortcomings of the draft regulations. “It is a little frustrating that we had some really good promise in what was happening with the Green Chemistry initiative,” said Ansje Miller, policy director of the Center for Environmental Health and coordinator of Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy, or CHANGE. “How it has turned out in implementation seems a lot weaker.”
One particular bone of contention for environmentalists is how the process appears to have prevented legislative action against dangerous chemicals over the last three years.
Back in 2007, the Schwarzenegger administration opposed three bills that would have banned potentially-dangerous chemicals. In each case, the administration recommended that any chemical bans “be postponed until the Secretary of the Environmental Protection has developed a comprehensive set of recommendations pursuant to the Cal/EPA Green Chemistry Initiative.”
Schwarzenegger cited it again in 2008 when he vetoed SB 1313, a bill that would have banned a class of chemicals called PFCs. The initiative has also been cited on the floor and in letters, by legislators from both parties, as a reason to vote against chemical bans.
The latest hearing was called by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara. It’s a combined hearing hosted by the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, which Nava chairs, as well as the Assembly’s Health and Natural Resources Committees.
Nava said that he didn’t have concerns at this time about the particulars of the draft regulations. Instead, he wants to hear from all sides and make sure the process keeps moving.
But he expressed concerns about how the administration has used the initiative to block legislative action.
“If the governor is interpreting the Green Chemistry initiative as a moratorium on public health, he’s got it wrong,” Nava said. “The Legislature has a standalone obligation to take aggressive, affirmative steps to protect public health. If that includes a chemical ban before the Green Chemistry Initiative issues their list, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Forty-seven different environmental groups signed on to a July 15 letter to Cal-EPA secretary Linda Adams saying they were “extremely disappointed” by the draft regulations. On that same day, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, sent a letter to Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of DTSC.
Both letters are critical of the proposed rules. First, the draft regulations rely on the Proposition 65 list and process for determining what chemicals should be examined under the system. Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, created a list of chemicals believed to cause cancer or birth defects.
But environmentalists have criticized Proposition 65 as too limited and slow to be up the task. CHANGE’s Miller said the initiative has a “very limited” definition of carcinogens, and that chemicals must go through a very long process to be added to the list.
“Considering that people widely contend that the Prop. 65 process needs reforming, we don’t want to take on another problematic process within the Green Chemistry initiative,” she said.
Environmental groups have also raised concerns with the public comment process that would be used in evaluating chemicals and what they see as “trade secrets” provisions that would allow them hide much of the chemical formulas in their products.
But according to Ulrich of the Chemical Industry Council, there are not adequate protections for trade secrets. He also cited concerns that the regulations don’t accurately take into account how people are likely to actually be exposed to particular chemicals and in what amounts. Ulrich also criticized the “third party” assessment process for chemicals as being too onerous—the same process that some environmentalists say isn’t strong enough.
DTSC’s Movassaghi said his agency has had an “open and transparent process.”
“That fact that you have both non-governmental organization and industry stating some concerns might show that we’re trying to balance,” he said.
One thing is for sure: However the state attempts to ban particular chemicals, the effort is likely to end up in court, no matter what the final regulations say.
“Some companies are going to invest in lawsuits and some companies are going to invest in research,” Movassaghi said.