Rachel's Precaution Reporter #14
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

From: Risk Policy Report .................................[This story printer-friendly]
November 29, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: The U.S. chemical industry is afraid -- very afraid -- that Europe's embrace of a precautionary chemicals policy (REACH) will create enormous pressure to adopt inherently safer "green chemistry" principles and practices.]

Anticipating a long-overdue California academician's report on the pursuit of "green chemistry" practices and acknowledging the likely acceptance of a sweeping European plan, the chemical industry is mobilizing lobbying efforts to dissuade state lawmakers from restricting their production practices. Legislative crackdowns sparked by these developments would cost California jobs and businesses and pose implementation problems, industry sources said.

Green chemistry is the development of alternative strategies for chemical production without relying on or creating chemical hazards. A study soon slated for release by lead author Michael Wilson, an industrial hygienist at the University of California, Berkeley, may suggest that green chemistry practices represent the best system for dealing with deficiencies in California's current chemical regulations, industry sources speculated.

Wilson recently spoke at an industry meeting, and is expected Dec. 14 to give an update on his study at a California Manufacturers & Technology Association conference in San Diego. The study is slated for release to the state Legislature soon, likely early next year, and is expected by industry sources to result in substantial new chemical policy legislation.

Wilson would not comment but in 2004, he praised practices such as those favored in the European Union's (EU) Registration, Evaluation & Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation.

REACH is a collection of regulations being advanced in the EU to restrict the use of some chemicals. Chemical manufacturers would be required to register their products in a central EU database; EU also will place restrictions on the use of certain high-priority chemicals such as carcinogens. EU's parliament approved REACH on Nov. 18, although several key issues need to be resolved, according to news reports.

REACH is seen as promoting green chemistry because it advocates the substitution of chemicals the EU deems more harmful for chemicals considered less harmful. Several EU countries already offer green chemistry subsidies to companies.

The concept of green chemistry was invented in the United States; American chemical manufacturers, regulators and environmentalists are expected to watch as the EU implements these new REACH restrictions.

"U.S. states -- starting with California -- are looking into enacting their own versions of this law," states a recently released Competitive Enterprise Institute-funded report on REACH

Industry sources are especially wary of green chemistry measures that might be pursued by the Legislature and worry that regulations arising from the legislation might be cumbersome and unwieldy. "We've got to be really careful that we don't put the policy ahead of the science," an industry source said. Doing so can result in harmful environmental consequences, the source said, citing California's failure to properly assess the impacts of the gasoline oxygenate additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) on groundwater supplies.

MTBE was considered "green chemistry" when it came out, the industry source says.

If green chemistry were to be pushed in California, the actual definition of "green" would face the most scrutiny from industry and environmentalists, a second industry source says. If a company manufactures a product the state defines as a hazardous substance, but uses sustainable methods, it is uncertain whether the product would earn the green chemistry designation. This designation would likely become heavily lobbied by the industry, the source says, and might become a way for state government to unfairly fix markets.

Industry disputes the common argument by advocates of green chemistry that the alternative chemicals are very marketable. "Very, very few [chemicals] are sold to end-users," the source said. If the products they become part of do not possess other green ingredients, the products may not even be sold as green, the source said.

For the most part, consumers care about quality, service and price, tending to give the last factor the most weight, the industry source said. High compliance costs might mean companies would not want to take on the additional burden of going green. Additional restrictions on California companies may cause more of them to leave the state, or may provide a disincentive for them to move to the state, the source adds.

Many European companies have received subsidies to develop and market the green chemicals, presenting an uncompetitive burden on U.S. chemical companies, the first source says. However, the second source says many American companies have European branches and may even have benefited from the subsidies.

Environmentalists did not return calls for comment on green chemistry practices.


From: Christian Science Monitor ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
November 28, 2005


A congressional group finishes public hearings on the law that assesses impacts of federal projects.

[Rachel's introduction: While we've all been focused on Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, and corporate scandals, "conservatives" in Congress have been preparing to revise the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), with its important precautionary provisions that require alternatives assessment of large federal projects.]

By Brad Knickerbocker

The National Environmental Policy Act -- known as the Magna Carta of US environmental laws -- is under intense political scrutiny.

For 35 years, NEPA has required that everything built or operated on federal land that "significantly affects the quality of the human environment" be scrutinized for its impact. Thousands of construction projects and other ventures -- from highways, dams, and water projects to military bases and oil drilling -- have been adjusted and in some cases scrapped because of the law.

The requirements of this Nixon-era act have done much for environmental protection, its supporters say. NEPA also has acted as a "sunshine law," opening the political process involving such decisions to all Americans through "environmental impact statements" allowing for public comment.

But the law has also been the basis for hundreds of lawsuits, in effect becoming a tool for activists to slow or kill many projects. NEPA also has greatly added to the cost of public works, energy development, and other beneficial projects, critics say. Most recently, it has been charged, environmental lawsuits under NEPA stymied US Army Corps of Engineers plans that might have lessened the impact of hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

A congressional task has just ended a series of public hearings in five states and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers heard from a range of interests -- the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, the Women's Mining Coalition, the Zuni Tribe, the Sierra Club, energy lobbyists, and local officials. A report and recommendations from the task force are expected shortly. It's unclear whether these will produce major changes to NEPA, as some environmental activists fear, or merely tweaks in the law.

Task force's marching orders

In either case, the working premise of the 20-member task force has been made clear by its chairwoman: "What started as an overly vague single-paragraph statute is now 25 pages of regulations, 1,500 court cases, and hundreds of pending lawsuits that are blocking important projects and economic growth," said Rep. Cathy McMorris (R) of Washington. "Too often we are hearing horror stories about endless reams of paper needed to complete the environmental impact statements."

The law's supporters see it as a "look-before-you-leap" measure that has brought about a new way of considering long-range environmental impacts of things like river dredging, new power plants, and waste disposal. In the case of New Orleans, environmentalists point out, the US Army Corps of Engineers responded to a NEPA challenge (upheld by a federal judge in 1977) by withdrawing its plan for new levees. "Flooding would have been worse if the original proposed design had been built," a Government Accountability Office official recently told a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Though supporters of the existing NEPA may be outnumbered in Congress, they have their champions. "Where critics see delay, I see deliberation," Rep. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico said at the last task force hearing Nov. 17. "Where they see postponed profits, I see public input. Where they see frivolous litigation, I see citizens requiring their government to live up to its responsibilities."

A big deal out West

The law, which covers natural resources on public land, has particular impact on traditional Western industries -- ranching, logging, mining - especially since the federal government controls much of the land in Western states.

"I do not believe that NEPA was ever intended to halt natural-resource use, sometimes to the detriment of natural resources, or to deprive families and rural economies of livelihoods," Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, told lawmakers.

One thing NEPA critics want is "categorical exclusions" for certain activities that can impact the landscape -- fencing and water facilities on Western rangeland, for example. "These activities have a minimal impact on the land but can play a critical role in putting in place a well- managed grazing program resulting in important benefits for the resources," Idaho rancher Brenda Richards testified earlier this month.

The Bush administration has already issued exclusions from full NEPA review on grounds that some activities -- such as salvage logging where wildfires have burned timber on federal land -- do not have major environmental effects.

Such exclusions, said Michael Anderson of the Wilderness Society, "greatly diminished public participation and environmental consideration in federal land management."

In a recent letter to Representative McMorris, 10 former White House officials who chaired or were general counsel of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in five administrations (three Republican and two Democratic) expressed the same concern.

James Connaughton, current CEQ chairman, attributed any problems to the law's implementation. To resolve conflicts and head off lawsuits, he said at the last task force meeting, his office is working with the Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, "bringing parties together to seek common ground and accept compromise."

Copyright 2005 The Christian Science Monitor


From: Environment News Service ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
October 25, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: As the European Union is beginning to ask, "How much pollution can we avoid?" the U.S. is continuing to ask, "How much pollution can we get away with?" -- an excellent example of a modern precautionary approach versus the tired old risk-based approach.]

[RPR Introduction: Precautionary action begins by setting a goal, then taking the steps needed to meet the goal. The European Union has just set an ambitious goal of cleaning the oceans within 15 years. The other approach, still being followed by the U.S., examines each individual discharge into the oceans and asks, "Can the oceans tolerate this one?" without ever considering the cumulative impact of all the discharges. The U.S. approach has no hope of cleaning the oceans, because that is not its goal. The U.S. is asking, "How much pollution can we get away with?" while the E.U. is asking, "How much pollution can we avoid?" -- an excellent example of the old risk-based approach versus a modern precautionary approach. --RPR Editors]

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 25, 2005 (ENS) -- The European Commission has proposed a new strategy to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy within 15 years. Loss of marine biodiversity due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the impact of commercial fishing, and effects of climate change are the major problems outlined by the Commission that the strategy is supposed to address. Environmental groups called the plan inadequate.

Presented Monday [Oct. 24, 2005], the Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment aims to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "Europe's seas and oceans make a huge contribution to our quality of life and our economic prosperity, but they are deteriorating because of over-exploitation, pollution, climate change and a range of other factors."

"This is an area where there is a strong need for a European overarching and integrated approach," Dimas said. "We want to ensure that European citizens today and in the future are able to benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in nature."

The evidence of the deterioration of the marine environment continues to accumulate, pointing to potentially irreversible changes -- as illustrated by the poor state of certain fish stocks in Europe or the effects of eutrophication on the marine ecology of the Baltic Sea.

The current deterioration of the marine environment and the associated erosion of its ecological capital, jeopardizes the generation of wealth and employment opportunities derived from Europe's oceans and seas, such as fisheries and tourism, the Commission warned. The Commission has developed an integrated policy framework to help deal with the pressures and negative impacts on the marine environment. Dimas says the strategy lays down clear operational guidelines on how to achieve good environmental status for all of the EU's marine areas by 2021.

But the new marine strategy was immediately criticized by Europe's largest environmental groups. BirdLife International, Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, Seas At Risk, WWF, the Fisheries Secretariat and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents 143 member organizations in 31 countries, called the "desperately inadequate."

The groups say they regret that the strategy contains no binding commitment to protect Europe's seas, saying "the protection of marine habitats and biodiversity is essential for the future of the marine ecosystems and the fisheries sector."

The environmental groups agree that the marine waters are in bad shape. Chronic overfishing has placed 38 of 43 fish stocks at risk, and hundreds of thousands of tons of oil are discharged every year into European waters, they point out.

The proposal was expected to fill a gap in the EU environmental policy, which is focused on land. "But the Commission's text falls short," the groups said. "It is now the responsibility of the European Parliament and Council to set legally binding objectives within this Directive, including a clear definition of what constitutes a healthy sea."

The Commission says they strategy will build upon what has been achieved so far at all levels of governance to protect Europe's seas.

The 25 EU member states share responsibility for the Baltic Sea, the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, each of which has its own distinctive environmental characteristics. To take account of regional differences, the common objectives and methods set forth in the Commission proposal are to be implemented at the level of marine regions. Member states sharing a marine area will be responsible for working in close cooperation to develop plans designed to ensure good environmental status in their marine waters, Dimas explained.

The member states' plans are to include a detailed assessment of the state of the environment, defining what achieving good environmental status means in the context of each regional sea. They will also contain clear environmental targets and monitoring programs.

No specific management measures will be set down at EU level, but national plans must be checked and approved by the Commission.

Member states share marine areas with countries that are not members of the European Union and an important part of achieving good environmental status will involve close co-operation with these third countries, within the framework of existing regional seas conventions, Dimas said.

Each member state will draw up a program of cost-effective measures aimed at delivering good environmental status of the marine environment. Impact assessments, including detailed cost-benefit analyses of the measures proposed, will be required prior to the introduction of any new measure. The national programs must be approved by the Commission.

The marine strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies the Commission is required to propose under the EU's Sixth Environmental Action Programme. The other strategies will cover air pollution, waste prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils, pesticides and the urban environment.

The air pollution strategy was presented on September 21, 2005. The other Strategies are due to be presented over the next few months.

The marine strategy is set out in a Communication, accompanied by a proposal for a Directive and the analysis underpinning the development of the strategy is contained in an accompanying Impact Assessment.

The full marine strategy is available here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.


From: Washington Toxics Coalition ........................[This story printer-friendly]
September 28, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: The Seattle School Board has adopted a precautionary policy for pest management, aiming to minimize exposure of students and staff to toxic chemicals.]

By Angela Storey

SEATTLE -- Last week [September 21, 2005], the Seattle School Board unanimously adopted a cutting-edge policy to protect students from exposure to hazardous pesticides at school. The Seattle School District is now the largest district in the state to eliminate uses of the most toxic pesticides.

"Seattle Public Schools takes our commitment to the health of our students, staff, and the planet very seriously," said district Board President Dr. Brita Butler-Wall, who pushed for adoption of the policy. "We have embraced the concept of healthy learning environments through a strong policy preventing possible exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides."

The policy responds to growing evidence that pesticides can interfere with children's ability to learn and cause other serious health problems. Under the new policy, pesticides linked to cancer, nervous system damage, and other health risks will be avoided.

The policy is a result of years of work by dedicated school district employees, board members, and community members. A Community Advisory Committee including district staff members, parents, doctors, and experts drafted the policy recommendations.

The policy and procedures include:

* Use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) at all school sites, with a focus on pest prevention and use of only least-toxic pesticides.

* Clear criteria for evaluating pesticides that eliminates the use of pesticides that can contribute to cancer, nervous system damage, reproductive harm, hormone disruption, or damage to the environment. Exceptions to the criteria are evaluated for emergencies or persistent problems.

* Prior notification of pesticide use to all parents and staff members when the law requires, and an expanded posting system.

* Creation of an on-going IPM committee to assist with implementation, consisting of district staff and community members.

"The Seattle School District has taken a tremendous step forward by drawing the line and saying toxic pesticides don't belong in our schools," said Angela Storey, healthy schools coordinator for the Washington Toxics Coalition, and chair of the Community Advisory Committee that drafted the policy proposal. "Pest problems can be prevented and solved without compromising the health of our children or our environment."

Seattle joins several other districts in Washington with strong pesticide-reduction policies, including the Vancouver, Bainbridge Island, and Sedro-Woolley districts. The policy will now go into effect at all of Seattle's 100 sites.


The Washington Toxics Coalition is a 501(c)3 non-profit that protects public health and the environment by eliminating toxic pollution.


From: Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa) ...............[This story printer-friendly]
November 29, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: In South Africa, the government says the precautionary principle requires killing 6000 elephants that are considered harmful to the local environment. Have all reasonable alternatives been considered?]

By Anel Powell

While anti-culling lobbyists on Monday launched a vehement attack on a "trigger-happy" South African National Parks (SANParks) for their proposal to cull at least 6,000 elephants in the Kruger National Park, government representatives urged groups to concentrate on the facts, not the emotions.

Speaking after a series of presentations by the Elephants Alive Coalition, JP Louw, head of communication for the environment and tourism department, said: "We need an African solution for what is essentially an African problem."

Louw revealed that the closed meeting was "quite emotional" as role players from both sides of the debate presented their case to the minister.

According to SANParks, there are more than 12,000 elephants roaming the Kruger Park. This overpopulation is considered a threat to the area's biodiversity, especially as the number is expected to rise to 34,000 by 2020. Culling has been offered as a possible solution.

Elephants Alive called for "more compassionate solutions" to Kruger's elephant problem, such as contraception and the erection of corridors to control elephant movement.

The coalition criticised SANParks' lack of consultation, their refusal to look at "compelling scientific data" opposing culling and their misinterpretation of environmental law.

Lawyer David Bilchitz said the precautionary principle contained in the Environment and Development declaration states that where there are threats of serious damage, "lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental damage".

He said SANParks was interpreting the clause to their advantage, without admitting that the culling could also affect the biodiversity of the park and cause serious damage.

If SANParks persisted in citing the clause as justification for culling, Bilchitz said opposition groups would challenge them, and the government, in court.

Keith Lindsay, scientific adviser for Care for the Wild International, said SANParks' estimate of 6,000 elephants that should be culled was not based on scientific data.

Although SANParks has not ruled out the sale of tusks, meat and hides from culled elephants, the coalition said this would only add R4- million to the coffers. Meanwhile, more than R72-billion was contributed to the national economy in 2002 by tourism.

"People come to South Africa to see the elephants."

Barbara Maas, of Care for the Wild, said of Monday's ministerial meeting: "We hope there will be ongoing dialogue as there is so much at stake, economically and ethically."

Will Travis, of UK-based Born Free, said: "He (Van Schalkwyk) could be the minister that goes down in history as the culling minister, or he could be remembered for being the one who looked at alternatives."

Louw said: "We heard a number of presentations and the one positive is that everyone is committed to finding a solution."

This article was originally published on page 6 of Cape Times on November 29, 2005

Copyright 2005 Independent Online


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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