INSIGHT: US automakers worried by California green chemistry rules

21 November 2013 16:20  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

CaliforniaWASHINGTON (ICIS)--US-based auto makers are increasingly concerned that California’s unfolding green chemistry rules could upend car manufacturing, impede existing automotive emissions initiatives and trigger sharp cost increases for auto buyers.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) is asking California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to exempt automakers from the state’s new green chemistry regulations that apply to every consumer product from toothbrushes to airliners.

Earlier this year, DTSC published a list of about 1,200 chemicals and substances of concern that are candidates for elimination in any consumer products that are manufactured, sold or leased in California.

The state’s green chemistry initiative is the result of a 2008 statute, the Green Chemistry Law, which gave rise to DTSC’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations (SCPR).

By April next year and perhaps as early as February 2014, DTSC expects to issue a list of up to five top priority chemicals from among a shortlist of 238 substances from the overall 1,200. Those 238 substances are identified as having exhibited hazardous traits and have appeared as trace elements in exposure tests such as bio monitoring

Once those top priority substances are named, manufacturers will be obliged to conduct “alternative analyses” to determine if other, less toxic substances or materials are available.

Eventually, use of chemicals or substances identified as priority materials may be banned in products manufactured, sold or leased in California.

That would create havoc for US-based automakers, according to AAM.

The automakers’ group argues that California’s green chemistry requirements “would be duplicative and onerous for a complex product like a car”.

California’s Green Chemistry Law will “unintentionally impact on-going emissions, fuel efficiency and safety initiatives [among automakers] while raising costs unnecessarily for consumers”, the AAM argued.

In addition to concerns over California’s green chemistry initiative, the automakers worry that other states might adopt similar although perhaps conflicting mandates, leading to a cacophony of varying state requirements.

The automakers consequently are asking the Sacramento, California, state government to grant their industry a waiver.

AAM noted that the Green Chemistry Law includes an exemption “for products that are already heavily regulated”.

“Automakers design and build cars to synthesize a variety of systems and individual parts to meet an array of individual customer needs and comply with hundreds of pages of regulations,” AAM argued to DTSC.

“Today’s cars meet or exceed stringent federal safety and environmental standards,” the automakers contend, citing governing rules by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state’s own California Air Resources Board (CARB), among others.

The group argues that California’s green chemistry rules, if fully implemented, could conflict with existing and stringent auto industry standards for performance, quality, reliability and safety.

The state’s unfolding green chemistry rules, said AAM, “would duplicate measures that automakers already successfully implement to protect consumers from exposure to materials of concern and reduce their overall use”.

Greatly increased oversight of “the construction and assembly of every single component and part by automakers would be onerous, implausible and would add to the cost of every new vehicle”, the AAM said.

In addition to disrupting the production of new autos, AAM said California’s green chemistry rules could upend the supply of replacement parts for cars already on the road.

“These new regulations could result in disruption in the supply of thousands of older model replacement parts, impacting an automaker’s ability to fulfil consumer warranties or repair the existing fleet,” AAM said.

“This is a significant issue considering that the average age of the typical car on America’s roads today is 11 years,” the group said.

The US automobile manufacturing industry is a major downstream consuming sector for a wide variety of chemicals, resins and derivative products, either as end-use components or in the production of other vehicle parts.

For example, engineering resins play a significant role in light-weighting automobiles in the interests of improving fuel mileage.

Were the California green chemistry rules to bar one or  multiple resins now used in auto manufacturing, those restrictions would inevitably work their way back up the supply chain to plastics producers.

A spokesman for AAM said the group was waiting to see what five high-priority substances will be listed by DTSC in April before taking further action.

US chemicals industry officials have warned that when SCPR is fully implemented next year it may force some producers to stop doing business in the state, raise the cost of consumer goods and even eliminate many products from store shelves in California.

One chemicals sector leader warned that the SCPR rules “will be absolutely impossible to implement and consequently will have a major impact on the availability of a wide range of consumer products in the state”.

The SCPR rules also are expected to trigger a flood of litigation as product manufacturers and retailers move into the courts in efforts to revoke or amend decisions by the DTSC about specific substances and products.

AAM member companies are BMW, Chrysler, Ford Motor, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo.

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


By: Joe Kamalick
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