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Schwarzenegger's Toxic Legacy

Californians’ Health, Environment Betrayed By Last Minute Green Chemistry Bait-and-Switch

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By: Californians for a Healthy & Green Economy (CHANGE)

SACRAMENTO, Dec. 2, 2010 - Californians from across the state are taking a stand against the newly released Green Chemistry safer product regulation that has been gutted in a last-minute attempt to sneak through industry-backed rules that overlook hazards to health and the environment. "This revised regulation is a betrayal of the Green Chemistry promise and ignores two years of public input while caving to backroom industry lobbying," said Ansje Miller, Campaign Director of the state-wide CHANGE coalition, Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy.

In 2008, California set out to address the problem of harmful products in our daily lives by adopting a multi-step Green Chemistry Initiative. As part of this initiative Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 1879 and SB 509 into law: one directs state agencies to develop a process for identifying potentially harmful chemicals so that Californians could be protected and the state could promote the development of safer alternatives, and the companion bill creates an online database of information about the toxicity of chemicals.

Over the past two years, CHANGE and dozens of public interest groups have faithfully participated in submitting comments and promoting the promise of the Green Chemistry Initiative. CHANGE is a broad-based coalition of more than thirty environmental and environmental justice groups, health organizations, labor advocates, community based groups, parent organizations, and others working to change chemical policies for the protection of workers, children, public health, the environment, and the economy.

On November 1, 2010 CHANGE submitted its public comment in support of the proposed Green Chemistry regulation as a first step towards progressive chemical policy reform.

And then came the bait-and-switch.

Without notifying the public, or even members of their own scientific advisory committee (the Green Ribbon Science Panel) the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which is charged with finalizing the regulations, drastically gutted the proposal and set it out for an illegal 15-day comment period right before Thanksgiving week. Completely restructuring the regulation and setting it out for a 15-day review violates the Administrative Procedure Act (California Government Code § 11346.8 (c).

"The last-minute gutting of the Green Chemistry rules means that Californians will continue to suffer from toxic products that harm human health and our environment," said Bill Magavern, Director of Sierra Club California.

From the onset, several public health concerns were left out of the proposal, yet CHANGE and others fully participated in providing comments and trusted the process that DTSC was setting forth. Among the long held concerns were lack of protections for workers and other vulnerable populations, lack of strong action on particularly hazardous "bad actor" chemicals that have been linked to serious health effects, and overreaching trade secret provisions that keep the public in the dark on important hazard information.

"It is imperative the state remains committed to getting rid of chemicals known to cause harm to human health and the environment," said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA. "This proposal not only fails to protect Californians, but also fails to advance clean production and benign-by-design products. If adopted, this would be a tragic missed opportunity to revitalize California manufacturing."

With this last-minute turn-around, the regulation incurred several radical changes:

Making them unenforceable and failing to remove toxic products -- Only product manufacturers are required to comply, leaving the rest of the logistics supply chain off the hook for making sure products are safe. Government should not have to, and will not have the resources to track down the chemical contents of thousands of products in order to make a safety decision.

Creating paralysis by analysis -- DTSC is now responsible for showing harm of individual chemicals, while the previous proposal placed more proof of safety burden on industry. The new version opens to court challenge every minor decision the state makes on chemical hazards. This will freeze the system, leading to inaction on critical protections for health and the environment.

Encouraging regrettable substitutions -- Instead of making a process to encourage safer alternatives, companies may simply replace the chemical product quietly and without examination. Such unexamined substitution can actually increase public risk.

"The revised regulations are scientifically questionable, at best. It would be simply inappropriate for Governor Schwarzenegger to move forward with these fundamentally altered regulations without consulting with the Green Ribbon Science Panel that he himself appointed. When it comes to chemicals and public health, California simply can't afford to get things wrong," said Renee Sharp, California Director and Senior Scientist with Environmental Working Group.

The comment deadline for this latest proposal is Friday, December 3, 2010 and the state intends to adopt this regulation before January 1, 2011.

The CHANGE coalition asserts that adoption of this regulation by the Schwarzenegger administration would not be a green victory for California, but instead a huge failure. They call for this proposal to be withdrawn, and that a legitimate regulation is put forward that reflects the intent of the legislature and accounts for the concerns of all Californians – not just the concerns of the makers of hazardous chemicals. The group calls for a chemical policy framework that removes the most pervasive and hazardous chemicals from the market, promotes the use of safer alternatives, and protects the health of workers and those most at risk.

The coalition was joined at the Capitol today by Sierra Club California, CA Product Stewardship Council, Clean Water Action, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Environmental Working Group, Worksafe, Center for Environmental Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Coalition for Clean Air, and other groups to announce their opposition.

CHANGE is a broad-based coalition of more than thirty environmental and environmental justice groups, health organizations, labor advocates, community based groups, parent organizations, and others working to change chemical policies for the protection of workers, children, public health, the environment, and the economy.

 

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