Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Joint USA/Canada Great Lakes Strategy Could Help or Hinder TSCA Chemical Reform

Last month the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (GLBTS) issued a report stating that they had achieved 12 of the 17 goals it set out to accomplish when the agreement was signed by the US and Canada in 1997. The report sets the stage for a not unsurprising face off between industry (who wants to scuttle any future agreements) and environmentalists (who want to expand future agreements to include new chemicals). How this plays out could both help and hinder the prospects for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The GLBTS was added in 1997 to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was originally signed in 1972 and has been updated periodically. EPA and Environment Canada are now working to renegotiate the agreement, which they hold will allow them to build on the successes of the past to identify and address new chemicals of particular interest to the Great Lakes, over which both Canada and the US cooperate to protect. The GLBTS set milestones for reducing the levels of toxics in the Lakes.

Industry is opposed to the renegotiation, arguing that they should wait until the US decides how it will reform TSCA before expanding the GLBTS. They argue that the achievements have been largely accomplished through voluntary efforts by industry working with the binational regulators. Environmental groups counter that it took 12 years to reach what they say are modest goals, and then not even all of them. They prefer to see the voluntary actions made mandatory, with much more aggressive timelines for completion. They also argue that the initial goals were based on the "low-hanging fruit," that is, the easy ones - chemicals that had already been identified as of concern.

It seems likeley that the effort to renegotiate and expand the GLBTS will add to the pressure to reform TSCA. Industry is currently faced with a multitude of state-initiated actions, and the GLBTS would add yet another set of standards by which industry must comply. They would prefer a single national standard in the US (i.e., TSCA reform) and preferably one that coordinates with Canada, the EU and other regulatory bodies to maximize the cross-jurisdiction acceptability of data packages and assessments. Environmental and health advocacy groups would also like to see a national standard, albeit a much more prescriptive and data intensive one than industry envisions.

All of this plays out as the anticipation grows for Senator Lautenberg to reintroduce an updated version of his Kid Safe Chemical Act. At this point, I think all stakeholders want to see something on the table that can be debated.

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