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California Jumpstarts Green Chemistry Regulation

Here's an update on the situation with the California Green Chemistry Initiative’s Safer Consumer Product Alternatives regulation development process.

At last week's Green Ribbon Science Panel meeting, the new director, Debbie Raphael, former co-chair of the Green Ribbon Science Panel, provided a near-term timeline and stated that her intention is to put a regulation in place that is, in her words, “practical, meaningful, and legally defensible.” This means:

  • Practical:
  • For both DTSC (California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substance Control) and industry. DTSC will not be able to add resources; the law (AB 1879) does not give it authority to charge for anything. The regulation must be implementable and understandable for industry.

  • Meaningful:
  • If this becomes only a paper-shuffling exercise, we're wasting our time. It must be meaningful to DTSC and the general public. I further take this to mean it must have net positive public health and environmental effects.

  • Legally defensible:
  • If DTSC gets sued, it needs to be confident that it will win.

Raphael feels that, since the process is already “outside the law” — that is, the regulation was supposed to be in place by January 1, 2011, but the Schwarzenegger administration apparently gave DTSC the OK to miss the deadline — we're no worse off now by trying to do it right, instead of simply trying to do it expediently. The current Brown administration, and also the various stakeholder groups it seems, is much more interested in supporting a good implementation rather than a fast one.

Raphael is reaching out to industry and other stakeholders over the next few months. Industry is interacting — for better or worse — with DTSC on this regulatory development project primarily through a single lobbying entity called the Green Chemistry Alliance, though some manufacturers and industry associations are participating outside GCA. The defined timeline is as follows:

  • Mid-October:
  • Release of an informal regulation for public review. This is not a “draft” or a “preliminary” regulation. This will precede the formal regulatory process and be for review and discussion.

  • November 14-15:
  • The GRSP will be convened in Sacramento to discuss the informal regulation document.

  • Between now and mid-October:
  • DTSC will hold stakeholder meetings to discuss non-scientific issues.

The way DTSC is approaching this finally feels “right” to me; it is addressing the really big and thorny technical issues head on, asking the right questions, and enabling good scientific and engineering debate at the GRSP meetings. This is a very difficult regulation to write, since it breaks new ground and is hampered by a poorly-written law (AB 1879), but Ms. Raphael's background, capabilities, and temperament lead me to believe that we will have a positive outcome.

12 comments on “California Jumpstarts Green Chemistry Regulation

  1. Ariella
    July 20, 2011

    It will be very interesting to watch what ensues. If the regulations work well, I'd imagine we will see other states following in California's footsteps. (Or should I say carbon footprints?)

  2. mike_at_DCA
    July 20, 2011

    I agree. But I would hope that instead we see something at the federal – or even international voluntary – level rather than at the state level. We already see how unwieldy it's becoming with so many US state-level (not to mention Canada province-level) WEEE/RoHS-like laws.

  3. eemom
    July 20, 2011

    Implementing regulations and laws at the State level definitely takes much longer.  At least at the federal level, the battle is fought once.  At the state levels, well, its 50 fold.  I do find that when the state decides to implement something new, its edict is not clear and usually requires quick turn around from the particular organization.  I am glad to see California forgoing the deadline to make sure that it is done right.  After all, isn't that the ultimate goal?

  4. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 20, 2011

    Thanks for bringing this effort to our attention. I applaud the efforts the state is making to get this regulation moving in spite of the lack of resources available to implement it. I always roll my eyes when I see something on its way to law with provisions not to add any resources, nor guidlines on practical implementation.

  5. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 20, 2011

    I agree that an international regulation initiative might be profitable for everyone. But based on the outcomes of recent world environmental summits, we can say that governments worldwide are not ready to adopt a common regulation policy. California is setting a precedent that other states or provinces will emulate.

  6. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 20, 2011

    I wish Rapheal could help move the initiative forward and meet a reasonable  deadline. But the success of the initiative will depend on how each stakeholder gets involved and willing to cooperate. Manufacturers might also need ample time to complete alternative assessments of the chemicals of concern and this may delay all the process.

  7. jbond
    July 21, 2011

    It is great to see these regulations moving forward, even if they are a little behind the original deadline. I'm curious how many other states will follow suit. It seem like California has always been the gateway to regulations and laws being adopted, though some states shun the ideas just because California passed them. It would be nice to see this done on a much larger scale, like Federal and eventually internationally. Unless there is cooperation across the board, there will always be ways to circumvent the system.

  8. FLYINGSCOT
    July 21, 2011

    Eurpope already has a lot of good (and some not so good) legislation in this area.  I hope the CA initiative rolls some of the best practices from Europe into their own legislation.  I also hope that other states then follow suit but this is likely to need a good deal of Federal intervention which sometimes is not that easy to get.  I applaud those who take on this difficult challenge for the greater good.

  9. hwong
    July 21, 2011

    I would be interested in understanding what these regulations entails. Does it have any examples of what types of rules will it enforce?

  10. mike_at_DCA
    July 21, 2011

    Hospice, good observation. This is a very complex issue that government – and industry – has not tackled before. Implementation will take time for two reasons: 1) DTSC doesn't get funded by AB1879 for this so I think it necessarily needs to start off with a pretty narrow approach. 2) Manufacturers are going to have to become familiar with this process; data gathering, interpretation, decision-making, and ultimately writing up the report will take significant time.

     

    Anyone looking for “quick wins” with this process are going to be out of luck. This is intended to solve a big, structural problem rather than a point issue so will take quite a while to become fully implemented.

  11. mike_at_DCA
    July 21, 2011

    Flyingscot, yes Europe has RoHS and REACH and a raft of other environmental regulations. However, none do what this does and the EC and ECHA are watching what goes on in California closely. REACH comes closest, but it does not require that an alternatives assessment (AA) be done when a manufacturer can't use a specific chemical anymore in their product, and that's – to me – the biggest difference here (aside from the fact that this is a product-focused regulation and REACH is chemical-focused). In the authorization process manufacturers can, in fact, perform an AA to help justify why they want their chemical authorized but that's the only place it shows up.

    This regulation can be looked at, perhaps, as the next step for REACH.

  12. Mr. Roques
    July 22, 2011

    How have those regulations caught up with other states? I know California is leading the way but which one's are following?

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