Thursday, May 08, 2003

Those Pesky Europeans Again!

The New York Times reported today that “The European Union announced a proposal today that would require manufacturers of industrial chemicals to test their products before they can be used.”

This seems to me like a fairly sensible proposition. After all, “Under current rules, about 99 percent of the total volume of chemicals sold on the markets have not been subjected to testing requirements”

Why should chemicals be considered innocent until proven guilty – by cancer, birth defects and other health problems 10, 20 or 30 years from now?

But, of course, the Bush Administration, which fears that such a regulations “could threaten the $20 billion in chemicals that the United States exports to Europe each year,” sees it differently.

Not surprisingly, “The American chemical industry has lobbied hard against the proposal, criticizing it as excessive, bureaucratic and unnecessary.” And the Bush Administration is right there with them:
To the Bush administration, the proposal amounts to unsound science and an abuse of regulatory authority, complaints American officials have already leveled against Europe for its concern about genetically modified food and a plan to require that all such food, known as genetically modified organisms, be labeled to alert consumers.
According to William Lash, assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance. "Any benefit they gain from these tests will be outstripped by the cost."

Oh yeah? Who gets the benefit? Who pays the cost?

Taking a lesson from its splendid little war in Iraq, the US is putting together a coalition of the unwilling:
White House officials already have enlisted other trading partners in Latin America and Asia to oppose the European proposal. If enough changes are not made, the administration could consider challenging the rules before the World Trade Organization as a restraint on trade.
The Administration and the U.S. chemical industry like our system better. Wonder why? According to the Times,
The main chemical regulation in the United States is the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act, which has been widely criticized for being weak and too deferential to industry. The vast majority of nonpesticide chemicals are not subject to any required screening before introduction here. (emphasis added)
If you’ve been reading Confined Space diligently, you will remember a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago (April 21) about European countries forcing US companies to comply with their much more stringent environmental standards. You can go back and read it again. (My article, not the entire NY Times article because the stupid Times charges for articles more than a week old) But here are some of the best parts:
John T. Disharoon, a lobbyist for Caterpillar who moved to Brussels three years ago from Washington, says policy makers in the United States are generally more accountable to the public than European regulators. "So it basically changes the entire lobbying dynamic," he said. "Traditional pressure points like jobs, economic data, what it will do to industry are not as effective."

Note from the editor: More accountable to the public? The Public? Who do we think Mr. Disharoon considers "the public" here? Three guesses:

(a) Workers
(b) Consumers
(c) Business Interests

If you don't know the answer, read on....

The biggest difference in Brussels and Washington, lobbyists here say, is that American politicians rely far more on corporate donations to finance their election campaigns. Further, the revolving-door phenomenon, a virtual institution in Washington where former officials go to work for the industries they once regulated, is far less common in Brussels.
Maybe we should just trust the chemical companies not to sell anything that might be harmful.

Or, you could learn the lesson of chemical cover-ups of the last century lasting until the present day:
A West Virginia judge has found that a chemical used to make Teflon is toxic and has punished DuPont for destroying documents as it defends itself in a class-action lawsuit involving the chemical.