For Immediate Release
Holidays Come Early for California Chemical Makers
Regulators Pull a Bait-and-Switch on Green Chemistry Rules
OAKLAND, Calif. - In September 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger celebrated the signing of two bills that, he said, would propel "California to the forefront of the nation and the world with the most comprehensive Green Chemistry program ever established." He promised that once the legislation went into effect, toxic chemicals would no longer become "inevitable byproduct of industrial production," lowering the risk of exposure to synthetic chemicals for California's people and the environment.
Fast forward two years: After countless public workshops, proposals and drafts of regulations, the reality is far from what the governor promised.
On Sept. 14, the California Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) issued what it called close-to-final regulations for a 45-day public comment period. The draft regulations weren't everything that many in the environmental and public health community had hoped for, but they represented at least a small step toward limiting the threat posed by toxic chemicals in consumer products.
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 2008 laws (AB 1879 and SB 509). 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, the agency gave the public only 15 days to comment on latest draft.
"The holiday gift-giving to the chemical industry started early this year, with the biggest one coming from Governor Schwarzenegger," said Renée Sharp, EWG's California director. "On the way out the door, he and his administration have taken what could have been a landmark program and gutted it."
"I am deeply concerned by the last-minute weakening of the proposed Green Chemistry Program," said state Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica). "The process by which the changes were initiated is itself suspect, but more importantly, the result is a step backward in chemical policy reform. The revised regulations fail to provide a mechanism for taking prompt action on many chemicals known to be hazardous, they fail to place any burden of proof on industry to show their products are reasonably safe, and they allow a veil of secrecy that will make any oversight by the public and the market virtually impossible. Californians deserve to be protected from the most hazardous chemicals that needlessly lurk in our everyday products. These revised regulations amount to a gentle nod to the chemical industry and a slap in the face to the people of California."
"Governor Schwarzenegger has an opportunity here to craft a legacy of protecting Californians from exposure to toxics," added Pavley. "I urge the governor to remain true to his commitment to safeguard the health and safety of Californians and the environment."
If the new regulations go into effect without being fundamentally overhauled, Californians will be worse off than before: State legislators could point to the inept program as an excuse not to get involved in the issue, and state regulators would have their hands tied in knots by a program that is structured to 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.
"Environmental Working Group is calling out this bait-and-switch ploy for what it is," added Sharp. "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 once he takes office - unless they are radically revised once again to live up to the goals of California's pioneering Green Chemistry laws once he takes office."
More than a dozen public health and environmental public interest groups held a press conference in Sacramento today (Dec. 2) condemning the action.
Environmental Working Group has requested the California Department of Toxic Substances Control provide all records that led to the last-minute backroom deal. The text of the letter is below.
The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.