Three years ago, California legislators did something politicians are seldom brave enough to do: they recognized their limitations and gave away some of their power.
In passing landmark green chemistry laws, lawmakers admitted that they were no match for scientists when it came to sorting through the data, analyzing alternatives and making a rational chemicals management policy. Under the new laws, that would be left to scientists and regulators at the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
It was a truly courageous move. If only they’d meant it.
As the DTSC nears the end of three years of public hearings, written comments, sub-committee meetings and reports, and is about to release proposed green chemistry regulations, the Legislature appears poised to step back into the business of making chemical policy on their own.
In the closing days of the session, the Legislature passed a measure that failed in the previous two sessions. AB 1319 bans the use of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a safety epoxy used in plastic products to protect food against the spread of salmonella and other bacteria.
Never mind that a United States Environmental Protection Agency report found no risks associated with BPA. Never mind that no better alternatives have been identified to perform the functions BPA does in making products safer. Never mind that this – chemical policy written not by chemists but by politicians – is precisely what the green chemistry laws of 2008 were created to prevent.
The urge to re-insert themselves doesn’t end there. Another bill, AB 913, a last-minute gut-and-amend in the closing weeks of the session, disregards promising efforts to establish clear, thoroughly vetted regulations. The bill’s language and outcome remain uncertain, but again we ask, why?
California is fond of being first in the country to pass groundbreaking laws. Unfortunately, it’s also become very fond of enacting new laws to undercut the hard work and progress made by the original laws. This tendency as much as any, is part of the reason businesses – and even consumers – get very nervous about making long-term investments in our state.
Let’s hope Governor Jerry Brown prefers science and process over politicians and platitudes, and vetoes the BPA-ban bill. And let’s trust that all future green chemistry matters are settled within the organized structure that was built to deal with such things.