Wheels In Motion To Crush Chemical Innovation

Chemical industry groups say they want to “modernize” the nation’s chemical law by applying reasonable reforms that would prevent states from passing a patchwork of conflicting state chemical laws. But industry groups should be careful of what they wish for. In fact, regulatory trends are clearly moving in a dangerous direction, one that threatens to undermine innovation, reduce profits for chemical companies, raise prices, and reduce choice for consumers. And there is little reason to believe that these regulatory changes will yield any benefits for public health or the environment.

For example, Inside EPA today has a story on U.S.-EU trade negotiations related to harmonization of regulatory programs to facilitate trade. While industry groups say they want trade, they wisely expressed concerns about “harmonization” with the European Union’s REACH program, which became  law in 2006. REACH (which is short for the bureaucratic parlance: registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals) imposes a massive bureaucratic paperwork burden on the chemical industry, and requires them to conduct myriad, unnecessary studies on chemicals that have been used safely for decades. Industry is paying a high price, conducting what amounts to little more than gratuitous testing on lab animals.

The costs of REACH push small companies out of the industry and is the road to bans and “voluntary” removal of many valuable products largely to serve political agendas rather than valid public health goals. For more information on REACH, see our study on the topic.

Before REACH passed, CEI warned industry that the program would be dangerous, hoping they would oppose its passage, but they didn’t listen. U.S. groups largely ignored REACH, while most European industry groups supported passage. Apparently, they thought it was inevitable, but only with industry support was REACH inevitable.

Now it’s too late;  the wheels for its expansion are in motion. REACH is the leading model for reforms of our chemical law: the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The Inside EPA story notes:

Jim Jones, the Obama administration’s nominee to head EPA’s toxics office, lauded the EU’s chemical rules during a Dec. 11 Environmental Law Institute Event in Washington, DC. “The Europeans are well ahead of the U.S. in chemical safety,” he said, adding that “The U.S. on the other hand has a rather challenging chemical infrastructure.”

Efforts by[Sen. Frank] Lautenberg [D-NJ] and others to reform the law are likely to resume in 2013. And Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who will lead Republicans on the Senate environment committee, is working with industry to craft a bill that would detail industry’s position in any negotiations.

Some environmentalists are already calling for lawmakers to adopt REACH provisions, including a stricter standard and EPA approval of all chemicals that go to market. Industry, on the other hand, opposes REACH’s safety standard, looking instead to make narrower changes that will increase public confidence in the safety of chemicals without barring most chemicals from getting to market. Industry is also seeking to preempt enactment of a patchwork of state laws that limit or ban certain substances.

Industry stands alone as the only segment that wants reasonable TSCA reform. But they should not count on Congress or the Republicans to deliver. Just ask pesticide and agriculture industry folks who mistakenly supported the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) — pushed by Republicans and Democrats alike in 1994 — only to find that they had done themselves in. Today they face an unreasonable and unfair regulatory system that is banning valuable products left and right.

Not surprisingly, greens want to use the FQPA standard for TSCA reform along with REACH — both “models” that represent past defeats for industry. Playing this game yet again is unlikely to yield good results for industry, and it will most certainly harm free enterprise and innovation.

Image credit: digicla on Flickr.