SOCMA chief warns against 'reflexive regulations'

04 March 2014 18:17 Source:ICIS News

Lawrence SloanBALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--A top US chemical industry official on Tuesday warned against “reflexive calls for more regulations” in the wake of fatal or environmentally damaging accidents, instead urging reform of existing precautions.

Larry Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Associates (SOCMA) told an industry regulatory conference that despite the chemical sector’s leading safety record among all US manufacturing industries, it often is the focus of heated demands for more rules.

“Sadly, when outliers in our industry experience a tragic incident, our industry is thrust into the media spotlight with the kind of headlines we neither want nor deserve,” Sloan said.

Referring to the 17 April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas that killed 12 emergency response personnel and three civilians, Sloan said that “reflexive calls for more regulation following an incident are not always the answer”.

He said that “reviewing existing regulations to identify gaps in chemical safety is far more appropriate than the temptation of creating new or duplicative rules”.

Speaking to some 400 industry environmental and safety specialists at the annual GlobalChem conference, Sloan said that “we already have an overly complex web of regulations, which in many cases conflict with one another, thus creating excess time spent in the industry trying to interpret them - precious time that could be spent instead on innovating new products”.

He said that in the wake of the West Fertilizer tragedy, SOCMA and other industry trade groups have been engaged with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on how to improve chemical safety and security.

Sloan said that the objective was to evaluate and possibly revitalise those regulations that are not performing as intended.

“Negligence in the workplace is an unforgivable offense,” he said. “It pits chemical companies and their customers against the very communities that benefit from them.”

“However, creating more regulations to help remedy this situation is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that hasn’t been disinfected properly,” he said.

In that context, Sloan said that SOCMA is working with members of Congress on pending legislation to reform and modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nearly 40-year-old principal federal statute governing chemicals in commerce.

He said that it is important that legislative reform of TSCA be done in a way “that keeps small and mid-sized US chemicals manufacturers competitive”. SOCMA represents some 300 US specialty and batch chemicals producers, most of whom are small or medium enterprises (SMEs).

In his opening remarks to the first day of the conference, Sloan also urged further pursuit of “a bold trade agenda” to allow US chemical producers “to tap into emerging markets and break down regulatory and non-tariff barriers”.

He noted that ongoing US-EU negotiations toward the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could eliminate more than $1bn in tariffs on US chemical exports, “but that is just a start”.

Sloan said that because of the different approaches taken by the EU and US in regulating chemicals, “cumbersome trade barriers have been created that have disadvantaged US chemical manufacturers, especially small and mid-sized US chemical manufacturers, including some of SOCMA’s members”.

“In some instances, US chemical manufacturers are unable to enter the European market because of high barriers in the form of testing costs and regulatory compliance burdens,” he said, adding that those barriers hurt not only US producers but EU consumers as well.

He said that SOCMA wants to increase regulatory cooperation with the EU, “but these efforts must be grounded in sound science and be risk-based, not focused simply the hazardous nature of a chemical like REACH is”.

REACH is the EU’s complex and controversial programme for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals.

Cosponsored by SOCMA and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference runs through Wednesday of this week.

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

By Joe Kamalick