Unsexy Environmental Bills

JULY 30, 2010

Most environmental legislation is about as exciting as a trip across Kansas in a Greyhound bus, and consequently, falls under the radar of media scrutiny. Environmental bills just aren’t sexy enough to warrant much coverage.

But the bills are increasingly invasive and seek to control manufacturers who use chemicals in the manufacturing process.

The tip off that the rest of us should be paying closer attention is how many bureaucrats flock to the committee hearings for environmental bills –- sexy or not, it’s all about the control.

One such group of bills surrounds the California Green Chemistry Initiative (GCI), which is working through the regulatory process right now. Legislative bills AB 1879 (Mike Feurer, D-Los Angeles) and SB 509 (Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto), dealing with toxic substance regulations and control, were wrapped into the Green Initiative and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008.

The Green Chemistry Initiative is another of Schwarzenegger’s green pet projects. Under the purview of saving the environment, the bills passed both houses of the legislature and were signed into law by the governor with nary a blip from the media.

AB 1879 gave the California Department of Toxic Substances Control sweeping authority to design processes for controlling “chemicals of concern,” in order to reduce the hazard levels posed by such chemicals.  SB 509 required the DTSC to establish a Toxics Information Clearinghouse.

But the bills were toned down in order to get support from all parties — Democrats, Republicans, business, labor and environmentalists — with the promise that if they were passed, the legislature wouldn’t have to keep introducing individual chemical ban bills.

Not so fast… since the legislation was signed into law, legislators have continued to introduce bills trying to accomplish what the original Green Initiative set out to do.

Most recently, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced another green chemistry bill, SB 928, on product disclosure, which appears to be an attempt to shut down the chemical industry. According to one legislative source, the bill seems to obviate the intent of the original Green Initiative bills, while attempting to be more intrusive into the chemical making process.

Simitian said that they are basing the bill off of Consumer Specialty Products Association’s own program, but in fact, CSPA opposes the bill.

The Assembly analysis of the bill states: “The enactment of SB 928 may have the effect of precluding any action by Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) on product ingredient disclosure of cleaning products under the State Green Chemistry statute.”

Simitian’s SB 928 currently rests in the Assembly Appropriations committee, and could be amended.

Yet my legislative source said there are still some fairly large issues to deal with, such as which other departments may have authority to regulate chemicals of concern –- Department of Public Health department, Department of Pesticide Regulation department, or State Water Resources Control Board — and how that would work within the new protocols.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, and other Democratic legislators are still pursuing the single chemical bans, which was supposed to be a thing of the past after the Green Chemistry Initiative was passed.

Pavley’s latest environmental bill, SB 797, died in the Assembly last year but is expected to come up for another vote soon. It would ban the chemical Bisphenol A, known as “BPA,” found in plastic containers. The ban specifies removing the chemical from baby bottles, sippy cups and the linings of liquid and powder baby formula containers.

Pavely is no stranger to green bills, authoring more than 25 green environmental bills (Fran Pavley | TotalCapitol ).

A bill that would ban the use of six different chemicals in Recreational Vehicle holding tank deodorants would force RVers in California to purchase less effective alternatives that make controlling holding tank odors a challenge when outside temperatures exceed 80 degrees. AB 1824 authored by Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, would outright ban the use of holding tank products containing the six chemicals.

Adding to the confusion and glut of green legislation, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the ban on the chemicals proposed by Monning’s AB 1824, is not consistent with California’s Green Chemistry initiative.

The Green Chemistry Initiative process is moving quickly because according to my legislative source, they want to get it done before Schwarzenegger leaves office.  And it could be quite a feat. There’s a hearing next Tuesday, Aug. 3  in the Assembly on Green Chemistry implementation.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authored SB 1291, now on the inactive list, which had singled out flame retardants, and would have prohibited manufacturers from using a new flame retardant in any upholstered furniture, bedding and filling materials, until the toxic substances department could consider and determine whether the flame retardant is a “chemical of concern.”

On its website, Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy say, “California’s Green Chemistry Initiative has been touted as a bold and innovative move toward more effective and efficient regulation of industrial chemicals in consumer products.” But they are not happy with how slowly the process to ban chemicals is moving.

Other environmental groups concur. “The proposed regulations read like a chemical company’s wish list,” said Renee Sharp, director of the California office of Environmental Working Group, in a press release. “Green Chemistry was passed with promises of a new, more effective and efficient way to protect the public from toxic chemical exposures, and the state is essentially putting all of its eggs for regulating chemicals into the Green Chemistry basket. It is essential that we get it right.”

Katy Grimes

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