American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory roll backs. This blog, focusing on chemical safety, is the latest in a series from EDF + Business highlighting how industry stands to lose from a weakened agency. To prevent these negative consequences, the business community needs to be at the forefront and demand policymakers support the U.S. EPA and its critical mission.
Recent attacks against EPA for purported regulatory overreach and an anti-business agenda ignore EPA’s crucial work on safer chemicals in the marketplace. EDF + Business works closely with leading companies to address public health and consumer concerns regarding exposure to chemicals. Leading companies rely on smart, science-backed regulations to provide market certainty and protect their industries from bad actors. Threats to underfund and deregulate EPA could jeopardize its continued leadership, which is desperately needed on chemical safety.
In June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Act was signed into law. The Lautenberg Act was the result of a strong bipartisan effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and finally give EPA the means to protect Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals. The Lautenberg Act not only had strong support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, it also had strong support from business: including trade groups like the American Chemistry Council, the Chamber of Commerce and individual companies like BASF and SC Johnson. Why? Because they agreed that empowering EPA to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety – thereby providing a consistent foundation for the safety of chemicals in the marketplace – would not only be good for improving public health, it would be good for business. The EPA’s job is to ensure a clean, healthy environment for all Americans. After years of input and strong bipartisan support, the reformed TSCA gave EPA the necessary tools to protect the public from toxic chemicals.
Business stands to benefit from greater market certainty and consumer confidence under the reformed TSCA. For example, product manufacturers should worry less about investing in the commercialization and usage of a chemical that years later could be found to imperil human health. And if the law meets its expectation, companies may in the long-term have less to fear about the state activity that had picked up when the federal government was not equipped to do its job. This action had been filling the void but led to a patchwork of requirements and regulations that bedeviled companies and left consumers confused about which chemicals in products were safe. The promise of greater market certainty and greater consumer confidence was critical to the Lautenberg Act’s support in Congress. Republican Senate sponsor David Vitter said, “Republicans agree to give EPA a whole lot [of] new additional authority. . . In exchange, that leads to … a common rulebook.”
However, fulfilling the promise of market certainty for industry and greater protection of consumer health depends on a funded and staffed EPA. If some in industry and their allies in Congress seek to undermine EPA at every turn – whether through budget cuts, anti-regulatory legislation, or stall tactics – they will stymie the promise of the Lautenberg Act and find themselves back at square one. If on the other hand, business, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans cooperate as they did to get the Lautenberg Act passed – but this time to ensure that EPA is enabled to implement the Lautenberg Act successfully, putting public health first – we could see a new era of chemical safety and innovation in the industry. And finally achieve what business and everyday Americans need.
Effective enforcement of bipartisan legislation is not the only place that the EPA can and must continue to lead. Creating opportunities for business leadership is also important. The innovative Energy Star program, a joint EPA-DOE voluntary energy efficiency program, is a great example of successful collaboration between business and federal agencies. The EPA is also the architect of another, perhaps lesser known, voluntary corporate leadership program called Safer Choice.
The Safer Choice program is widely used by companies, celebrated by consumer advocacy groups, and helps to reduce the level of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Touted by Consumer Reports as a meaningful tool for shoppers, the Safer Choice program recognizes products whose chemical ingredients are the safest within their function (e.g. solvents). Each product bearing the Safer Choice label – over 2000 today – has been evaluated by EPA scientists to ensure that the product’s ingredients meet the program’s rigorous human health and environmental safety criteria. BASF, Levi Strauss, Clorox, Staples, AkzoNobel, Sun Products are just a few of the 500 companies in the retail supply chain that have made the offering of Safer Choice ingredients or products a key part of their business. Likewise, influential trade associations such as The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA), with over 7000 members, and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), with over 250 companies representing $100 billion in sales annually, have recognized and promoted Safer Choice as a program that can give companies a competitive edge in the marketplace. In a recent op-ed, CSPA called for the new EPA Administrator to support Safer Choice because it “has provided tangible, bottom-line results for consumers, businesses and environmental advocates.”
EPA regulatory enforcement to protect health, and voluntary programs that recognize leading companies, benefit all Americans.