Bureaucratic Green Chemistry

California bureaucrats recently released their proposed regulations implementing the state’s 2009-passed “green chemistry” law. The law supposedly will make life safer for California residents by ensuring that all products are designed to be “green.”

But it is destined to fail — costing consumers without delivering benefits — because policymakers foolishly assume that bureaucrats are better situated than business to decide what makes a product safe. It’s the same fatal conceit on which the Soviets once based their failed economic policies.

California’s green chemistry initiative goes beyond basic safety regulations. Regulators will impact product formulations and designs by listing both chemicals and products on “concern” lists based on largely political, rather than scientific grounds. Such listings will send signals to consumers and manufacturers to avoid these chemicals and products. In addition, regulators will force some companies to study alternative formulations and redesign products — even when there is no sound science demonstrating any serious health or safety risks.

In that case, rather than maintain focus on product performance, affordability, safety, and consumer demand when designing products, manufacturers will be forced to serve the political preferences of the regulators. The final products will be inferior, and ironically, potentially less safe.

Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to “be on the safe side.” They forget that every product on the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes will always be inferior.

Banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment that went into designing them, discourages innovators who fear similar repercussions, and diverts resources from useful enterprises into production of second, best substitutes.

For more details on the perils of government-driven “green chemistry” see CEI’s paper: Green Chemistry’s March of the Ostriches. And for background on chemical risk issues in general, see our coalition website:  SafeChemicalpolicy.org.