Carolina Biological Supply Company/Flickr
Environmentalists are accusing the Schwarzenegger administration of gutting a landmark California law designed to reduce the number of harmful chemicals in consumer products.
Expectations were set high when the Green Chemistry Initiative was created two years ago and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted it would move "California to the forefront of the nation and the world" in cutting harmful ingredients from thousands of products.
In September, activists were less than excited when the Department of Toxic Substances Control set out regulations outlining the program. But yesterday there was outright anger over last-minute revisions.
The Environmental Working Group called the new regulations a "bait-and-switch ploy," a "betrayal" and a "dirty trick." And they asked Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to invalidate the regulations when he takes office next year, "unless they are radically revised to live up to the goals of California’s pioneering Green Chemistry laws."
Environmentalists said the most recent changes were made without notifying the public or the Green Ribbon Science Panel, which advises the Department of Toxic Substances Control on the regulations. The public has been given just 15 days to respond.
"The holiday-gift giving to the chemical industry started early this year, with the biggest one coming from Gov. Schwarzenegger," said Renée Sharp, California director of the Environmental Working Group. "On the way out the door, he and his administration have taken what could have been a landmark program and gutted it."
The Green Chemistry Initiative requires the state to identify and prioritize chemicals it considers harmful and regulate toxins in consumer products, from hand lotions to bathroom cleaners. The law also requires companies to pay for testing and independent review of chemicals considered to be harmful.
But Sharp said the new regulations proposed by the Department of Toxic Substances Control "create huge burdens on DTSC to prove harm before prioritizing a chemical.” The definition of who is subjected to the regulations has also been narrowed, Sharp said. Distributors, retailers, and importers are technically no longer named – the rules apply almost exclusively to manufacturers.
Maziar Movassaghi, acting director for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said the changes were made to streamline the process. “We took out some duplicative steps and some steps that might stifle innovation,” he said.
Movassaghi, says the change was made because certain “rules had made inadvertent problems” and changing the wording “avoids regulatory gray areas.” He also added that the definition of manufacturer is broad enough not to compromise the department's ability to enforce the program.
Environmentalists also complained that third-party experts hired to review products no longer have to be state certified. Without certification, they said, manufacturers could potentially hire each other to review their products.
But Movassaghi said this change was made to ensure there are enough independent reviewers available.
“We wanted to make sure that the supply is out there, and we still retain that the third-party verifiers must not have a direct economic interest with the entity that they’re working with.” He added that department will also do a review of all tested products.
Sharp is not convinced. She says the new regulations “essentially mean that we are only going to be taking action on chemicals we know a heck of a lot about."
"And the whole idea behind this bill,” she said, “was to give the state some tools to take action on chemicals that we didn’t know a lot about.”
In July, environmentalists also had accused toxic regulators of ignoring the latest science while pandering to the chemical industry. One criticism was the state’s decision to test only products that exceed a certain threshold of chemicals - potentially ignoring the cumulative effects of exposure.
Michael Wilson and Meg Schwarzman, both scientists at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, had said the department was pushing a "one-size-fits-all" approach. “Certainly, it cannot be expected to protect public health," they wrote.