Thursday, February 11, 2010

States, Regions, and Federals - The Conflicting Interests of TSCA Chemical Reform

The perceived lack of teeth in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has led many US states to initiate their own state-level actions to regulate what they call toxic chemicals. Recently I noted that 13 states (no, not just the original 13 colonies) had released "a set of principles designed to ensure that the debate over reforming the nation’s outdated chemical policy stays focused on protecting public health and the environment."

Regional influences are also getting into the act. The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy seeks to address chemicals of concern to the Great Lakes and includes the surrounding US states and Canadian provinces.

And of course the federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued its "essential principles" for TSCA reform.

All of this virtually guarantees that a federal level modernization of TSCA will happen soon. While Senator Lautenberg could be introducing his bill any day now, introducing it doesn't mean passage into law, as can be attested by the fact that this would be the 3rd time he has introduced legislation. The key difference this time, however, is that the industry is behind "modernization." On Tuesday, for example, a new "Michigan Coalition for Chemical Safety" was formed in which "business, manufacturing, agriculture and bioscience leaders" look for a national level reform of TSCA. Not surprisingly, Michigan was one of the 13 states mentioned above. The Coalition is actually a Michigan Chapter of the national Coalition for Chemical Safety, an industry association whose mission is to "create a comprehensive overhaul of the TSCA that protects public safety, promotes industry innovation and preserves jobs." [Interestingly, Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund has had a running conversation on his blog about how the CCS is an "astroturf" group more interested in protecting their own interests than public safety.]

In any case, industry would much prefer that any changes be made at the national level to TSCA rather than a hodgepodge of state level actions that make it more difficult to comply. Which is why the major industry trade associations have been working with Senate and House members to lobby for what they see is a rational path forward. Meanwhile, health and environmental advocacy groups have been doing the same. And recently the debate seems to have finally been discovered in the blogosphere.

This last point is dangerous, in my opinion. Like the climate change debate, while the science is pretty overwhelming, the blogosphere tends to thrive on polarization. I'll have more about this in future posts.

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