Daily News Archive
From July 17, 2006                                                                                                        

House Energy and Commerce Committee Passes Toxics Treaties
Includes State preemption language on POPs chemicals
(Beyond Pesticides, July 17, 2006) On Wednesday, July 12th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on a bill related to the implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and the Rotterdam Convention on the trade of toxic substances which would includes language restricting state’s rights to ban or restrict pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.The marked up version of H.R. 4591 includes muddled language (see pages 61 and 62) that seemingly restricts a state of local authority from enacting laws that are not in compliance with federal decisions made about current POPs chemicals and those that come up for future review under the Convention.

POPs are synthetic, toxic chemicals that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in food chains and are common contaminants in fish, dairy products and other foods. Many Americans may now carry enough POPs in their bodies to cause subtle but serious health effects, including reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, and disruption of the immune system. Some indigenous communities in the Arctic region carry particularly high levels of these contaminants. Many POPs migrate on wind and water currents to the Arctic and bioaccumulate in the marine food chain there, contaminating the traditional foods of indigenous peoples. (See the rest of this Beyond Pesticides daily news article here.)

The legislation has been presented as a bill that will finally implement the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty banning POPs which was negotiated in part by President Clinton and signed by President Bush in 2001. The treaty has been signed by 127 countries but has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Congress and thus is not in action in America. Unfortunately, instead of giving the EPA and international scientists more power to protect public and environmental health from POPs chemicals, H.R. 4591 creates loopholes that would permit the continued manufacture, use and export of these same toxins.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, requires the EPA to perform another level of review, beyond the Convention process, to evaluate chemicals through cost-benefit analysis to determine whether they should be banned. Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, in opposition to the bill, points out that this would “expand the number of analyses required, delay regulatory action and provide many new opportunities to judicially challenge any EPA regulation of a future listed (toxic) chemical.” An effort was defeated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee to replace cost-benefit analysis with standards based on human health risks.

According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), “before the United States can ratify and join the Stockholm POPs Convention, the Congress must amend two important laws: the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7. U.S.C. § 136 et seq., which regulates the production, sale, and use of pesticides; and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., which regulates industrial chemicals.” The Senate Energy and Public Works Committee has not yet begun to examine any legislation related to the Stockholm treaty.

Those supporting the legislation, such as Rep. John Sullivan, R-Oklahoma, maintain that the bill’s goal is to implement the Stockholm Convention while maintaining U.S. sovereignty in the midst of international standards. Further, H.R. 4591 asserts federal supremacy over states’ rights, supposedly to ensure national standards of manufacturing in food, industry, and commerce.

However, this threat to State's ability to pass more protective laws for POPs chemicals is enraging public interest groups and environmental and health activists. Even commerce-oriented Republicans are up-in-arms about the legislation. In December, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accused the GOP-led Congress of abandoning the shared-power federalism touted by its icon, Ronald Reagan, in favor of more control over states’ rights.

Rep. Hilda L. Solis, D-California, sponsored H.R. 4800, a bill which also promise to finally enact the Stockholm Convention and ban POPs. In contrast to H.R. 4591, however, Solis’ bill would “allow the United States to continue its role as a global leader while at the same time protecting public health.” Gillmor’s bill has been opposed by eleven Attorneys General and many healthcare and environmental groups nation-wide, while Solis’ bill has been endorsed by these same people, as well as almost two dozen American Indian tribes.

Emphasizing the degree to which environmental standards have already fallen in this country, over 9,000 of EPA scientists and employees have voiced their alarm over pending agency approval of twenty incredibly toxic organophosphate and carbamate pesticides, according to a letter released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson in May they asked him to either institute extremely low acceptable levels for these chemicals or remove them from the market all together. Were H.R. 4591 to pass the Senate and become law, it would effectively eliminate the ability of states to regulate the toxins which may become legal under the increasingly lenient standards of H.R. 4591 and the EPA.

Go to the Senate website, here, and find your state’s senators. Write them and tell them that you oppose Gillmor’s bill and to vote NO on H.R. 4591.