US States’ ability to protect from toxic chemicals under attack on two fronts

TTIP and States v5US States’ ability to protect public health and the environment is under attack on two fronts – at home and abroad, but with the same enemy orchestrating the attack: the chemical industry.

On the home front, the chemical lobby is aggressively pushing the reform of the outdated and ineffective US federal legislation on chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a reform that at best is inadequate to address the threats posed by toxic exposures and at worst paves the way for another forty years of outright failure to protect people and the environment. And from abroad, industry is also using the US-EU trade agreement, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), to lower US regulations on chemicals under the guise of “regulatory cooperation” as demonstrated in our latest report.

Because of the widespread failings of TSCA to protect people and the environment from toxics, individual US States have started enacting their own state-level legislation that goes beyond federal TSCA regulation in order to protect public health and the environmental from toxic substances. (By way of example, federal standards under TSCA are so weak that even known human carcinogens, like asbestos, are not banned in the US, and the EPA could only require 200 chemicals of over 84,000 in the TSCA inventory to be tested for safety after entering the market).

TTIP States Stats v2Over the past three decades, 38 states including in California, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, have enacted 250 laws that go beyond federal standards to protect people and the environment from toxic substances. However, these laws are now threatened by the chemical industry’s one-two punch of TSCA’s “modernization” and TTIP’s “regulatory cooperation.”

Both TSCA bills pending under the US Congress (there are two) and the EU’s proposal for TTIP raise concerns on the US states’ authority to enact legislation that goes beyond lower federal standards. That is, that US states will no longer be able to pass laws and regulations that increase the protection of people and the environment from hazardous chemicals, effectively transforming federal standards into a “ceiling” instead of a “floor” from which state governments can set more protective standards.

TTIP States Pie Chart small v3It’s no surprise that the chemical and pesticide industry, which typically fight against strict regulations, is keen to support regulations that provide for federal preemption. Meanwhile, TSCA bills have been harshly criticized by more than 400 NGOs and several US Attorneys General, and the EU Parliament has expressed its concern that TTIP will weaken safety standards on chemicals, calling for the exclusion of EU legislation on toxic chemicals from negotiations. Indeed, despite higher levels of chemical safety in the EU (under its REACH regulation), chemical industry federations of both sides of the Atlantic (comprised of many of the same companies) are promoting regulatory cooperation under TTIP, that is a reduction of differences between EU and US regulations. Disturbingly, they appear to be converging to the lowest common denominator.

New regulations on toxic chemicals should move toward greater protection for people and the planet, not go the opposite direction aligned with industry lobbying. Join CIEL’s campaign and take action. For those in the United States, send this message to your US State representatives and legislators. Ask them to demand negotiators to reject EU’s proposal for TTIP that threatens US State’s regulatory authority. Help us preserve state’s ability to protect human health and environmental safety.

Originally posted on October 1, 2015.