Regulators Pull a Bait-and-Switch on Green Chemistry Initiative in California

By Renee Sharp, Environmental Working Group

In September 2008, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger celebrated the signing of two bills (AB 1879 and SB 509) that, he said, would propel “California to the forefront of the nation and the world with the most comprehensive Green Chemistry program ever established.”

Once they went into effect, he said, “we will stop looking at toxics as an inevitable byproduct of industrial production. Instead they will be something that can be removed from every product in the design stage, protecting people’s health and our environment.”

It sounded pretty good — in theory.

Two years later, after countless public workshops, straw proposals and drafts of regulations, the reality is turning out to be a major disappointment. More than that, it’s a betrayal.

On Sept. 14 of this year, the California Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) issued what it called close-to-final regulations for a 45-day public comment period. Those draft regulations weren’t everything we hoped for, but they at least presented a small step toward protecting the public from the threats posed by toxic chemicals in consumer products and meeting the intent of the legislation.

Then, at the eleventh hour, the Schwarzenegger administration and the toxics control department pulled a classic bait-and-switch maneuver.

Just two weeks after the deadline for comments had passed, the agency issued a revised set of regulations that essentially gutted the Green Chemistry program established by the two laws. The changes were made without notifying or seeking input from the public or even the Green Ribbon Science Panel, which the law established to advise DTSC in developing the regulations. What’s more, they gave the public only 15 days to comment on latest draft.

If the new last-minute regulations go into effect without being fundamentally overhauled, Californians will actually be worse off than before: Some state legislators could point to the inept program as an excuse not to get involved in the issue of toxic chemicals, and state regulators would have their hands tied in knots by a program that is structured to spin wheels and eventually fail.

The proposed regulations would also set a terrible precedent for the nation, because many aspects of the gutted California program are actually worse than the flawed and outdated federal 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.

That’s why Environmental Working Group is calling out this bait-and-switch ploy for what it is. We’re telling Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Department of Toxic Substances Control that they won’t get away with this dirty trick and calling on governor-elect Jerry Brown to stop the regulations from going forward next year — unless they are radically revised to live up to the goals of California’s pioneering Green Chemistry laws.

Renee Sharp is the California Director and a Senior Scientist for Environmental Working Group ( EWG is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to using the power of information to protect public health and the environment and has been actively engaged in California’s Green Chemistry Initiative.

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