The Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. and European
firms were unsuccessful in an attempt to make the proposed chemicals policy in
Europe more affordable during committee consideration of the bill in the EU
Parliament. But even if business had succeeded in reducing paperwork
costs, the policy would still have adverse effects around the world.
The program, known as REACH—for the registration,
authorization, and evaluation of chemicals—would require companies to register chemicals
they produce, import, or use. The paperwork
alone will be expensive, but the program is also likely to produce expensive
bans and other regulations on many chemicals.
Industry has continually tried to make REACH a more
reasonable program, but unfortunately they are fighting a losing battle.
The problem is that REACH is fundamentally flawed and thus, cannot be fixed.
First, REACH attempts to address unknown/yet-to-be
discovered, low-level chemical risks, while other laws already sufficiently
address higher priority, identified risks, according to EU Commission
studies. As a result, it’s unlikely that
REACH will produce any substantial benefits because the public exposures it
addresses are insignificant and undetectable. However, REACH will likely lead to unjustified bans of valuable products—which
could prove dangerous. In the past,
similarly misguided bans have produced devastating impacts. The prime example is bans around the world on
the pesticide DDT, which have contributed to millions of deaths from malaria for
the last several decades.
The other fundamental problem with REACH is that it depends
on a misguided faith in centralized, bureaucratic management. History has demonstrated the failure of such
systems, and REACH is no different. As a
result, the REACH registration process is destined to become an expensive
exercise in bureaucratic futility.