Thursday, April 01, 2004

US Government Lobbies Against Euro Chemical Safeguards at Request of Chem Industry

So what else is new?

I've written a number of times about the European Union's proposed REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) program that would require chemical manufacturers and importers to gather and report the quantity, uses and potential health effects of approximately 30,000 chemicals. About 1,400 of these chemicals are known or suspected to be carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, persist in the environment or to accumulate in body tissues. The initiative would subject these 1,400 chemicals to an authorization review similar to that used in the regulation of pharmaceuticals. These chemicals could be strictly controlled, depending on whether they are an environmental, consumer or workplace hazard, or even banned.

Needless to say, the American chemical industry has not been too happy about this proposal and is doing its best to squelch it, some even calling it a national security threat. Today, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a report that
shows that the Administration, at the request of the U.S. chemical industry, mounted a campaign to block the efforts of the European Union to require chemical companies to adequately assess the risks of chemicals that are sold in the marketplace.

The report examines how the Bush Administration responded to a landmark effort by the European Union to reduce the risks of chemical exposure.
The report is based on a series of documents obtained by the Environmental Health Fund.

According to Waxman,
"This report reveals that the Bush administration worked hand-in-glove with the chemical industry to oppose the European chemical initiative.

"There is no evidence that the administration ever attempted to determine what was best for the nation as a whole," Waxman said. "The administration ignored requests to analyze what the benefits of the European proposal might have been and dismissed the concerns of environmental and public health groups. ... The only views that mattered were those of the chemical industry."
None of this is particularly surprising. I've written before about U.S. government attempts to influence the European Union's decision and the strange reasoning they use to justify their actions.

Which makes this press release by the American Chemistry Council rather bizarre.
Perhaps Rep. Waxman should be more concerned with the potential impact of Europe?s proposed scheme on his constituents and American workers rather than conspiracy theories hatched by anti-industry activists. The innuendo in today's report obscures the U.S. government?s legitimate and wholly appropriate role in raising questions about the global impact of REACH.
Conspiracy theories? Are they perhaps referring to a chapter of the report that compares a list of "themes" developed by US industry associations with a memo sent by Secretary of State Colin Powell to diplomatic posts in European Union nations. For example,
  • Industry theme: "REACH will work to stifle innovation and the introduction of new safer chemicals."

    Secretary Powell's cable: "These compliance costs may negatively impact innovation and EU development of new, more effective, and safer chemicals and downstream products."

  • Industry theme: "Suppliers might not share information about chemicals and might pull a particular chemical off the market because they don't want to go through the burden of testing and registration."

    Secretary Powell's cable: "Manufacturers of chemicals for many applications may halt production where demand does not justify registration and testing costs."
Waxman concluded that
Taken together, the documents described in this report provide a case study of how a well-connected special interest can reverse U.S. policy and enlist the support of numerous federal officials, including a cabinet secretary, to intervene in the environmental policies of other countries. Under President Clinton, the United States adopted a policy of recognizing the authority of other nations to act to protect their public health and environment. At the urging of the chemical industry, however, the Bush Administration reversed this policy and actively opposed European Union efforts to improve the regulatory system for chemicals.
Greg Lebedev, president of the American Chemistry Council, argues that the industry's actions are perfectly justifiable: "The questions the U.S. government is raising about the global impact of REACH are perfectly sensible. American companies have a stake in Europe as investors, manufacturers and suppliers."

Right. So that means we (as in the American chemical industry) get to determine whether Europeans get poisoned and polluted because we have a stake "as investors, manufacturers and suppliers?" Do other country that invest, manufacture and supply the American homeland have a right to determine what chemicals we're exposed to?

P.S. This is not an April Fool's joke.

More here.