NPRA '11: State regulation of chemicals not a major concern

27 March 2011 21:36  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ICIS)--State-level regulation of chemicals in commerce - in lieu of overdue federal regulatory reform - does not pose a significant challenge to US petrochemical producers, a top industry official said on Sunday.

Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said that few state governments are capable, technically or financially, of launching comprehensive chemical regulatory programmes.

Some in the US chemicals sector worry that, in the absence of a hoped-for major overall of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), an increasing number of state governments are taking matters into their own hands, enacting their own regulatory programmes as miniature TSCAs.

Congress made little progress last year in trying to reform the 35-year-old TSCA, which has not seen significant amendment since first enacted in 1976.

Nor was it thought likely that Congress could accomplish a major reform of TSCA this year or next, with some in industry predicting no substantive congressional reform action until 2013 or even 2014.

In the absence of federal action to modernise TSCA - which all parties agree is needed - states are said to be moving ahead on their own.

According to a recent report from an environmental group, at least 18 states have passed chemicals control legislation, and as many as 25 other state governments were expected to enact similar laws this year.

However, Cooper said that most, if not all, of the state-level initiatives “involve specific chemical or product bans, such as actions against BPA [bisphenol A]”, the controversial plasticiser that has come under widespread criticism as potentially harmful to newborns and infants via baby feeding and care products.

Other than such chemical-specific bans, Cooper said, “not many states are in a position to attempt an overall chemicals control system at the state level”.

He cited California in particular, noting that the state, which frequently has led other states and even federal agencies in environmental innovation, can ill-afford major legislative and regulatory undertakings.

“With California $20bn [€14bn] in the hole, it’s hard to garner the budget resources for something that is not a number-one public priority,” Cooper said, citing recent US polls showing environmental concerns falling well behind economic and employment issues.

With few exceptions, most US state governments are struggling to overcome huge budget deficits and mounting public debt, legacies of the US recession.

“I don’t that is going to change,” he added, referring to low voter interest in major environmental undertakings.

“So I think it will be difficult for any state to commit the sort of resources for comprehensive regulatory reform, other than targeting individual chemicals, so we’re not concerned,” Cooper said on the sidelines of the 36th annual International Petrochemical Conference (IPC).

Sponsored by NPRA, the conference runs through Wednesday, 29 March.

($1 = €0.71)

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

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