Tuesday, May 04, 2004

US Continues Attempt To Block Europe's REACH

The Christian Science Monitor reviews American government and chemical industry efforts to kill the European Union's plan to introduce a system where chemicals would have to be extensively tested before being used, based on the "precautionary principle:" treating chemicals as guilty until proven innocent.

I have written before about the proposal, Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH). With the U.S. not making any friends with its unilateral approach to foreign relations -- from renunciation of the Kyoto Global Warming treaty to the invasion of Iraq -- overt opposition to REACH has not been winning many friends
The US administration has lobbied hard on behalf of the US chemical industry to make REACH less troublesome for chemicals manufacturers, rallying European producers and some of their governments to its cause.

A report released earlier this month by Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California details how the State Department and other US government agencies "planned a wide range of actions to build opposition to REACH." Among those actions were cables sent by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, drawing heavily on themes developed by industry representatives instructing US embassies to argue that REACH "appears to be a costly, burdensome, and complex regulatory system, which could prove unworkable in its implementation."

The report "raises very serious issues about the degree of balance on the part of the United States," said EU spokesman Anthony Gooch in a statement. "Important and legitimate public interest concerns about the impact of chemicals ... just don't seem to have been part of the US policy formulation mix."
The U.S. chemical industry is arguing, as usual, that if REACH takes effect, the sky will fall -- the cost is exhorbitant, jobs will be lost, innovation will be stifled.
That concern echoes arguments heard in Washington, where administration officials are skeptical about the implications of the precautionary principle. "Sometimes claims of hazard prove to be exaggerated," pointed out John Graham, head of regulatory affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, in a recent lecture at the Heritage Foundation.

"A major peril" of "an extreme approach to precaution," he argued, "is that technological innovation will be stifled. Technological innovation occurs through a process of trial-and-error and refinement, and this process could be disrupted by an inflexible version of the precautionary principle."
Europeans are not quite as vulnerable to the industry's job blackmail arguments and well-funded corporate lobbyists don't have quite the same clout as they do in the U.S. Nevertheless, our chemical industry, along with their friends in the Bush administration, are trying to teach their European counterparts how to fight off environmental extremists. It should make for an interesting battle.
The European Parliament is unlikely to begin debating the REACH legislation until this fall, after elections, and it may not be ready for final approval by EU member states until 2006. "There will be quite a lot of influencing of the legislation from all sides over the next two years," says Jensen-Korte.

"I have never seen a lobby as big as the chemical industry," says Evans. "But the public should have an equal say in laws affecting daily life. I hope that the lobbying from people will be as strong as lobbying from industry, so that we can come up with a balanced sort of law. It won't satisfy everyone, but it will be a step forward."