Thursday, June 24, 2010

More on how the November elections may impact the TSCA Chemical Reform bills being debated

Yesterday I wrote a commentary piece about how the likely change in numbers of Republicans and Democrats could affect the ongoing discussions to revise TSCA. A commenter raised some good points so I thought today I would expand on my responses.

To begin with the commenter opined that my "political analysis in this case is simplistic and overly tied to conventional wisdom." He (or she, the comment was Anonymous) noted that "the industry position on TSCA reform is not at all monolithic. There are divisions within the ranks and conflicting needs from within the business community. Some industry industry interests want more than has been proposed. Others want the burden shifted to other sectors."

To which I wholeheartedly agree. In my reply I noted that "the industry position is not at all monolithic, nor for that matter is the NGO position or the positions of the individual companies (or of the American people, should they even have an opinion)." I also pointed out that "clearly the end user, small enterprise, and specialty manufacturers and formulators have different desires, and concerns, than the larger manufacturers. This is especially true in comparison to the multinational companies who may find that their significant resources and prior data generation for HPV and REACH gives them a distinct competitive advantage."

The "environmental/health friendly tone" you ascribe to the current bills belies the fact that there are many in that camp that find portions of the proposals to be unworkable and incomplete on practical grounds.

Again, I agree. Not surprisingly "there are portions of the proposals that are more than acceptable, and patently unacceptable, to both sides (and all the other sides)." Furthermore, I also agreed "that the situation is much more intricate, intertwined, and complicated than what can be presented in the very limited space I had available." I believe I've discussed many of these differences of opinion and the desired options of various stakeholders in my previous writings in this post. Yesterday's posting was one of my occasional commentaries in which I speculated "on the influences of a likely change in political power after November."

Then there's the American people, who overwhelmingly want safer products. Then there's the state chemical policy experiment where every new law has been voted in with overwhelming bipartisan support.

I actually didn't address this directly in my reply but here again the commenter makes an excellent observation. Clearly "the American people" want safe products. However, defining what is "safe" and how to demonstrate it is obviously more difficult than simply saying you want safe products. Many of the "American people," for example, also don't want too much government interference that could stifle innovation. Where is that line?

The political landscape for safer chemicals legislation is complicated and will defy conventional partisan analysis in the end.

I suppose my piece yesterday did seem to suggest "conventional partisan analysis," but if that is the case it certainly doesn't reflect my understanding of the process. On the other hand, wisdom becomes conventional for a reason...there is usually good support for it, at least on the general level.

I agree we'll see substantive TSCA reform, but I find it senseless to speculate around a duality of who it will be friendlier to when that reality doesn't really exist.

I disagree that such speculation is senseless. I noted that "to ignore the differences of position, even if they are generalities, is to ignore the realities of the debate." While I agreed earlier that the "conventional wisdom" is oversimplified (rather than merely "simplistic"), the fact is that the two parties have very different views on the level of government regulation that is appropriate. I think Representative Barton and the Republican Study Committee made that point quite clear this past week.

The fact is that most in industry feel the bills go too far in modernizing the law. And most of the advocacy NGOs would feel the bills do not go far enough in many respects. As the old adage says, "the devil is in the details." And I think most would agree that the preferred details lean one direction for the Republicans and the other direction for the Democrats. And while certainly within the caucuses there are shades of opinion, in the current partisan environment those shades are less and less gray and more and more black and white. I think this will have an influence on the nature of the final bills when they get reintroduced next year. Others may disagree.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Will the November Elections "Reform" TSCA Chemical Reform?

As anyone reading my posts on this site knows already, the US Congress has introduced bills in the House and Senate to reform/modernize TSCA, the 34 year old Toxic Substances Control Act. But those following the process also know that this year is a mid-term election year and that the minority party - the Republicans - are expected to make substantial gains in the number of seats they hold. Some believe that the Republican party will gain the majority in either the House or Senate, or both.

So what does this mean for TSCA reform?

It could mean a lot. The Democratic majority in key committees is led by very environmentally minded leadership from California - Barbara Boxer for the Senate EPW committee and Henry Waxman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey has also taken the lead in the Senate as chairman of the relevant subcommittee in Boxer's EPW committee. A Republican takeover would put significantly less environmentally and health-aware chairs in place. Even significant gains in seats would shift the balance of power more into the Republican view, which tends to put more emphasis on industry than would the Democratic view.

So would Republican gains kill TSCA reform? No. At least, probably not. Industry is generally in agreement that modernization of TSCA is necessary, primarily because industry would rather deal with one federal-level law than a hodgepodge of 50 state laws (plus a few regional rules tossed in to further complicate compliance).

So while some sort of TSCA reform in 2011 seems inevitable, most would agree that it will be more industry-friendly than the current bills being offered.

Another major concern is funding of EPA. No matter what the final law looks like, and despite the desire to shift the burden of proof onto industry, it is clear that EPA will have much more work to do with the updated regulations. In short, much more information means much more review. In the EU, REACH created an entirely new agency to do the work. In the US, EPA has struggled with reduced funding for many years, and the current economic situation most assuredly will limit any new funding to deal with new mandates.

So what will the final Safe Chemicals Act look like? We don't know for sure. But it's a safe bet that after the November elections it will shift from the more environmental/health friendly tone of the current bills to a more industry friendly tone in the final bills likely to be reintroduced in 2011.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Climate Scientists James Hansen and Robert Watson Win Prestigious Blue Planet Prize

Climate scientists have recently been fending off harassment, professional character assassination, and even death threats as lobbying groups have stepped up their attacks on the science. But this past week two prominent climate scientists were named as recipients of the 2010 Blue Planet Prize, which is "an international environmental award...considered to be Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prize."

The two winners are Dr. James Hansen, director at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Hansen is well known in the United States for his vocal communication of the urgency of climate change. The other winner is British scientist Dr. Robert Watson, who is chief scientific adviser of the UK Department for Environment and chair of environmental science and science director at Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the University of East Anglia. Watson is the former head of the IPCC.

According to the attached announcement:
"the prize, first awarded in 1992, is sponsored by the Asahi Glass Foundation. It goes to individuals or organizations with outstanding achievements in applied scientific research who have helped to solve global environmental problems.Watson and Hansen will receive their awards on October 26 in Tokyo, where they will each give a commemorative lecture."

In 1992, the year of the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Asahi Glass Foundation established the Blue Planet Prize, "in the hopes of encouraging efforts to bring about the healing of the Earth's fragile environment."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

China Publishes Revised Draft Guidance for Chemicals Notification

While REACH dominates the attention of Europe and TSCA reform is keeping everyone in the US guessing, the Chinese Environment Ministry has updated its draft guidance to reflect changes to the Environmental Management on New Chemical Substances law. Comments on the draft guidance are open until 1 July. In short, it is China REACH.

Entry in force of the law is set for October 2010 and several big changes are included. For example, new chemicals to be notified much be classified according to the UN Globally Harmonized System (GHS). The new law also introduces a new category of highly toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative substances (PBTs), and a new system of volume-based notification. There also is some reduced requirements for low-risk substances.

In anticipation of the new law, the Environment Ministry has published six guidance documents covering the requirements of the new law, though at this point they are only in Chinese. But a stakeholder's workshop will be held in Beijing on June 25, 2010 for those able to make it.