A bright spot in industry-NGO dialogue on TSCA

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

A couple of weeks ago, a short letter was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under this rather unusual letterhead:






The letter noted:  “Our three organizations have been working together to discuss how best to achieve effective processor reporting of use and exposure information, which is a clear demonstration of our mutual interest in providing EPA with reliable use and exposure information on chemicals in commerce.”

What’s up with that? 

The decision to send such a letter was actually the culmination of two years of constructive dialogue toward finding common ground between business, health and environmental interests on the contentious issues surrounding implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

I, along with my colleague Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, just got back from the annual conference of the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), the trade association for the formulated chemical products industry.  We both had been invited by CSPA to speak on a panel on TSCA reform, and to meet with company representatives working on proposals for various elements of such reform.

Two years earlier, I attended the same conference for the first time and presented a summary of a paper I had just published, titled Ten Essential Elements of TSCA Reform.  A bit to my surprise, my paper was well-received, and it led to a series of meetings with CSPA companies and staff that “got into the weeds” on the specifics of TSCA enhancements and implementation issues.  While I attended the initial meetings by myself, more recently several members of our coalition have become involved.

What’s worked and why

There are two characteristics of what CSPA has done that, in my view, have distinguished it from other efforts at dialogue in which I have been involved during this period, and have made it more substantive and fruitful.  First, CSPA set up a number of workgroups on specific issues that were each led by technical and policy specialists drawn from its member companies, not by CSPA staff.  Second, those workgroups developed and shared specific, often detailed proposals, not just principles or generalities.

The ability to share and compare and contrast concrete proposals from both sides of the table has fostered better understanding of our respective needs and concerns.  And it has brought into sharper focus questions we need to address as to the scale of change needed and the practicalities of implementing those changes.

Now, I don’t want to be too Pollyanna-ish here:  There are clear differences in our perspectives, we’ve encountered disagreements on key details, and we still have a ways to go in these discussions.   But that’s the point:  One can’t narrow differences and resolve disagreements without first clearly elucidating them.  And that requires both sides to come to the table with specifics and an honest aim to look for ways to resolve differences.

What hasn’t worked

Now, while it’s certainly no secret, this dialogue has proceeded out of broad public view.  Other forums, especially the public debate over TSCA reform, have proceeded less productively.  That, in my opinion, is because, with few exceptions, only one side – ours – has been willing to put forth specific positions and provisions and advocate for them in the public arena.  And while our side has consistently been represented by a range of individuals drawn from our coalition’s diverse membership, all too often the industry side has operated through its trade associations and has sought to limit expressions of the diversity of perspective, opinion and creative ideas that surely exists among their members.

Readers of this blog know that in recent months, I have been quite critical of a number of the chemical industry’s tactics and positions.  EDF has a long history of watch-dogging both EPA’s and the chemical industry’s activities associated with TSCA implementation.  We’ve consistently called things like we see them, so it should come as no surprise that we continue to do so.

As EPA has re-energized its chemicals management programs, something I believe was long overdue, we have closely monitored the chemical industry’s reactions to what, in the larger scheme of things, has to be regarded as a rather modest set of steps EPA is taking under its limited current TSCA authority.

The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC’s) statements and principles relating to TSCA reform have provided a new lens through which to view the positions the chemical industry has taken in response to EPA’s regulatory proposals.  Early on, I made clear that how ACC responded would be a good test of how serious it is about real TSCA reform.  See here and here.

Many of my posts have contrasted ACC’s statements and principles for TSCA reform with its actual actions and positions – finding numerous cases where the two simply don’t line up.  That finding extends to ACC’s responses both to others’ TSCA reform proposals and to EPA’s new regulatory efforts.

Looking forward

EDF will continue to scrutinize the chemical industry’s actions and positions, and to criticize them whenever warranted.  That’s part of who we are and what we do.

But we can walk and chew gum at the same time:  None of our criticism should call into question our willingness to seriously engage in substantive dialogue with anyone in the chemical industry toward finding a path forward on TSCA reform.

I set only two requirements:  That the parties come forward prepared to get into the weeds, willing to offer specific proposals and work toward narrowing and resolving differences in good faith.  And that the companies who will be the ones to implement changes take the lead in this effort.

Those two elements have served well to date in our constructive dialogue with CSPA’s member companies.  And you have to admit that letterhead looks pretty nice.

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