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Chemical Manufacturers Love Toxics Reform: Really?

I know I am not alone in applauding EPA's recent announcement that it plans to push for reform of that 60-page weakling, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and develop "action plans" for several exceptionally bad actors, among them perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates and bisphenol A.

As it stands now, EPA has no authority to require manufacturers to submit toxicity or ecotoxicity information about the chemicals they produce, and no authority to require testing of any chemical on the market without clearing impossibly high hurdles. Not surprisingly, EPA has managed to regulate only a handful of chemicals in over three decades. So any talk of reform is cause for celebration.

But is that in fact the American Chemistry Council—the nation's most influential chemical manufacturers' trade group—cheering along in agreement?

It sure sounds like it. At last week's Future of U.S. Chemicals Policy conference, ACC announced that its "highest priority is public health and safety" and called for a "comprehensive approach" to reform. And, believe it or not, ACC's "ten principles" for modernizing TSCA would shift the burden to industry to provide EPA with the data it needs to make safety determinations, give EPA new authority to require testing, and recognize that children need special protection from chemical exposure.

Forgive my skepticism, but as SNL's Seth and Amy might put it, "Really?!" Because let's face it: as Environmental Working Group reminds us, this is the same industry that from the outset has concertedly resisted any form of mandatory testing, systematically lobbied to defeat every state right-to-know law proposed, and worked to shut down a series of state and local initiatives to regulate bisphenol A and other substances. And as Richard Denison notes in his terrific and nuanced TSCA blog ACC informed Congress as recently as 2006 of its view that "TSCA is a sound statutory and regulatory system" and a "robust vehicle that can effectively address emerging chemical issues."

I do recognize the possibility that, ennobled by the new administration, some leaders within the industry have in fact changed their positions for the better. And undoubtedly pure pragmatism has played a role in the turnaround: the ACC knows that reform is inevitable, and it must show willingness to compromise lest it squander this once-in-30-years opportunity to shape the laws governing its business.

But in the end, it's simply hard to believe, at least for now, that after decades of obstructionism, the chemical manufacturers truly have public safety as their number one concern and will conduct their lobbying activities with that as their animating ideal. That is why I support Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group and other public interest organizations working to ensure that the new TSCA looks nothing like the old.