Bush Chemical Treaty Bill Favors Industry Over Public Health

July 12, 2004

Tomorrow, a House subcommittee will take up a Bush administration bill that environmentalists believe would harmfully limit how the U.S. participates in an international treaty to ban or strictly regulate the world's most toxic chemicals.

Congress must pass legislation in order for the U.S. to ratify the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a treaty that currently covers the world's 12 most dangerous chemicals and pesticides and allows for adding additional pollutants in the future. Because the U.S. has already banned the so-called "dirty dozen" currently covered by POPs, it is the "adding mechanism" portion of the treaty that is at issue.

But a draft of the administration bill being circulated in the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials is "fatally flawed and should be rejected" because it places the interests of the chemical industry over the health protection of the American public, according to a summary prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International and Environmental Law (CIEL). [1]

For example, the legislation fails to require EPA to take any action whatsoever should a new chemical be added to the Convention -- even if the U.S. supports the decision to add the chemical to the list. The bill includes no timeline for EPA to accept or reject regulation of the new chemical and no process by which the public can challenge EPA's decision. The Bush administration has vehemently argued over the past several years that Congress cannot pass laws that require EPA to take any action based upon decisions in international treaties.

Ironically, in direct contrast to this philosophy, the legislation also includes language that would allow Congress to force the President to take action under this treaty. The bill would require the President to select an "opt in" version of ratification, meaning that if new chemicals were added to the Convention, the U.S. would not be required to regulate or ban those chemicals unless it actively "opted" to do so -- even if the U.S. delegation voted to support the addition of that chemical to the list.

Such a clause would blatantly interfere with the President's international negotiating abilities, according to CIEL. "We suspect this power grab is directed not at the current administration, but at future Presidents who may be more inclined to cooperate in international negotiations and implement them in a way that meaningfully protects human health and the global environment," the summary states.

"I suspect it was written as a safeguard, in case Bush isn't President next year," Glenn Wiser, a senior attorney for CIEL, told BushGreenwatch. "I can't think of any other reason for doing it."

Should the U.S. decide to "opt in" to a ban on additional chemicals, those regulations would be further delayed by a requirement in the bill that would force EPA to conduct analyses to determine the chemical's suitability for listing, even though such scientific investigations would already have been conducted by the U.S. as a party to the Convention.

This legislation, said Wiser, is just one more example of the Bush administration parlaying favor with the chemical industry by placing its financial interests over the public's health and well-being.

"The last thing industry wants is for an international treaty to rock their boat," said Wiser. "But they want the U.S. to sign on to the POPs Convention, because they want to be sure the U.S. government will protect their interests in any future Convention decisions."

[1] "Environmental and Health Organizations Reject Proposed TSCA Amendment to Implement the Stockholm Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Convention," Jul. 1, 2004.



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