Rachel's Precaution Reporter #14

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, November 30, 2005.........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

U.S. Chemical Industry Resists Pressure to Adopt Green Chemistry
  The U.S. chemical industry is afraid -- very afraid -- that
  Europe's embrace of a precautionary chemicals policy (REACH) will
  create enormous pressure to adopt inherently safer "green chemistry"
  principles and practices.
Will Congress Gut the National Environmental Policy Act?
  While we've all been focused on Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War,
  and corporate scandals, "conservatives" in Congress have been
  preparing to revise the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), with
  its important precautionary provisions that require alternatives
  assessment of large federal projects.
EU Sets Goal to Clean Marine Environment in 15 Years
  As the European Union is beginning to ask, "How much pollution can
  we avoid?" the U.S. is continuing to ask, "How much pollution can we
  get away with?" -- an excellent example of a modern precautionary
  approach versus the tired old risk-based approach.
Seattle School Board Adopts Precautionary Pesticide Policy
  The Seattle School Board has adopted a precautionary policy for
  pest management, aiming to minimize exposure of students and staff to
  toxic chemicals.
Will Precaution Be Used to Justify Killing Elephants?
  In South Africa, the government says the precautionary principle
  requires killing 6000 elephants that are considered harmful to the
  local environment. Have all reasonable alternatives been considered?


From: Risk Policy Report, Nov. 29, 2005
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Anticipating a long-overdue California academician's report on the
pursuit of "green chemistry" practices and acknowledging the likely
acceptance of a sweeping European plan, the chemical industry is
mobilizing lobbying efforts to dissuade state lawmakers from
restricting their production practices. Legislative crackdowns sparked
by these developments would cost California jobs and businesses and
pose implementation problems, industry sources said.

Green chemistry is the development of alternative strategies for
chemical production without relying on or creating chemical hazards. A
study soon slated for release by lead author Michael Wilson, an
industrial hygienist at the University of California, Berkeley, may
suggest that green chemistry practices represent the best system for
dealing with deficiencies in California's current chemical
regulations, industry sources speculated.

Wilson recently spoke at an industry meeting, and is expected Dec. 14
to give an update on his study at a California Manufacturers &
Technology Association conference in San Diego. The study is slated
for release to the state Legislature soon, likely early next year, and
is expected by industry sources to result in substantial new chemical
policy legislation.

Wilson would not comment but in 2004, he praised practices such as
those favored in the European Union's (EU) Registration, Evaluation &
Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation.

REACH is a collection of regulations being advanced in the EU to
restrict the use of some chemicals. Chemical manufacturers would be
required to register their products in a central EU database; EU also
will place restrictions on the use of certain high-priority chemicals
such as carcinogens. EU's parliament approved REACH on Nov. 18,
although several key issues need to be resolved, according to news

REACH is seen as promoting green chemistry because it advocates the
substitution of chemicals the EU deems more harmful for chemicals
considered less harmful. Several EU countries already offer green
chemistry subsidies to companies.

The concept of green chemistry was invented in the United States;
American chemical manufacturers, regulators and environmentalists are
expected to watch as the EU implements these new REACH restrictions.

"U.S. states -- starting with California -- are looking into enacting
their own versions of this law," states a recently released
Competitive Enterprise Institute-funded report on REACH

Industry sources are especially wary of green chemistry measures that
might be pursued by the Legislature and worry that regulations arising
from the legislation might be cumbersome and unwieldy. "We've got to
be really careful that we don't put the policy ahead of the science,"
an industry source said. Doing so can result in harmful environmental
consequences, the source said, citing California's failure to properly
assess the impacts of the gasoline oxygenate additive methyl tertiary
butyl ether (MTBE) on groundwater supplies.

MTBE was considered "green chemistry" when it came out, the industry
source says.

If green chemistry were to be pushed in California, the actual
definition of "green" would face the most scrutiny from industry and
environmentalists, a second industry source says. If a company
manufactures a product the state defines as a hazardous substance, but
uses sustainable methods, it is uncertain whether the product would
earn the green chemistry designation. This designation would likely
become heavily lobbied by the industry, the source says, and might
become a way for state government to unfairly fix markets.

Industry disputes the common argument by advocates of green chemistry
that the alternative chemicals are very marketable. "Very, very few
[chemicals] are sold to end-users," the source said. If the products
they become part of do not possess other green ingredients, the
products may not even be sold as green, the source said.

For the most part, consumers care about quality, service and price,
tending to give the last factor the most weight, the industry source
said. High compliance costs might mean companies would not want to
take on the additional burden of going green. Additional restrictions
on California companies may cause more of them to leave the state, or
may provide a disincentive for them to move to the state, the source

Many European companies have received subsidies to develop and market
the green chemicals, presenting an uncompetitive burden on U.S.
chemical companies, the first source says. However, the second source
says many American companies have European branches and may even have
benefited from the subsidies.

Environmentalists did not return calls for comment on green chemistry

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From: Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 28, 2005
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A congressional group finishes public hearings on the law that
assesses impacts of federal projects.

By Brad Knickerbocker

The National Environmental Policy Act -- known as the Magna Carta of
US environmental laws -- is under intense political scrutiny.

For 35 years, NEPA has required that everything built or operated on
federal land that "significantly affects the quality of the human
environment" be scrutinized for its impact. Thousands of construction
projects and other ventures -- from highways, dams, and water projects
to military bases and oil drilling -- have been adjusted and in some
cases scrapped because of the law.

The requirements of this Nixon-era act have done much for
environmental protection, its supporters say. NEPA also has acted as a
"sunshine law," opening the political process involving such decisions
to all Americans through "environmental impact statements" allowing
for public comment.

But the law has also been the basis for hundreds of lawsuits, in
effect becoming a tool for activists to slow or kill many projects.
NEPA also has greatly added to the cost of public works, energy
development, and other beneficial projects, critics say. Most
recently, it has been charged, environmental lawsuits under NEPA
stymied US Army Corps of Engineers plans that might have lessened the
impact of hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

A congressional task has just ended a series of public hearings in
five states and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers heard from a range of
interests -- the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, the Women's
Mining Coalition, the Zuni Tribe, the Sierra Club, energy lobbyists,
and local officials. A report and recommendations from the task force
are expected shortly. It's unclear whether these will produce major
changes to NEPA, as some environmental activists fear, or merely
tweaks in the law.

Task force's marching orders

In either case, the working premise of the 20-member task force has
been made clear by its chairwoman: "What started as an overly vague
single-paragraph statute is now 25 pages of regulations, 1,500 court
cases, and hundreds of pending lawsuits that are blocking important
projects and economic growth," said Rep. Cathy McMorris (R) of
Washington. "Too often we are hearing horror stories about endless
reams of paper needed to complete the environmental impact

The law's supporters see it as a "look-before-you-leap" measure that
has brought about a new way of considering long-range environmental
impacts of things like river dredging, new power plants, and waste
disposal. In the case of New Orleans, environmentalists point out, the
US Army Corps of Engineers responded to a NEPA challenge (upheld by a
federal judge in 1977) by withdrawing its plan for new levees.
"Flooding would have been worse if the original proposed design had
been built," a Government Accountability Office official recently told
a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Though supporters of the existing NEPA may be outnumbered in Congress,
they have their champions. "Where critics see delay, I see
deliberation," Rep. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico said at the last task
force hearing Nov. 17. "Where they see postponed profits, I see public
input. Where they see frivolous litigation, I see citizens requiring
their government to live up to its responsibilities."

A big deal out West

The law, which covers natural resources on public land, has particular
impact on traditional Western industries -- ranching, logging, mining
- especially since the federal government controls much of the land in
Western states.

"I do not believe that NEPA was ever intended to halt natural-resource
use, sometimes to the detriment of natural resources, or to deprive
families and rural economies of livelihoods," Caren Cowan, executive
director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, told

One thing NEPA critics want is "categorical exclusions" for certain
activities that can impact the landscape -- fencing and water
facilities on Western rangeland, for example. "These activities have a
minimal impact on the land but can play a critical role in putting in
place a well- managed grazing program resulting in important benefits
for the resources," Idaho rancher Brenda Richards testified earlier
this month.

The Bush administration has already issued exclusions from full NEPA
review on grounds that some activities -- such as salvage logging
where wildfires have burned timber on federal land -- do not have
major environmental effects.

Such exclusions, said Michael Anderson of the Wilderness Society,
"greatly diminished public participation and environmental
consideration in federal land management."

In a recent letter to Representative McMorris, 10 former White House
officials who chaired or were general counsel of the President's
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in five administrations (three
Republican and two Democratic) expressed the same concern.

James Connaughton, current CEQ chairman, attributed any problems to
the law's implementation. To resolve conflicts and head off lawsuits,
he said at the last task force meeting, his office is working with the
Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, "bringing parties
together to seek common ground and accept compromise."

Copyright 2005 The Christian Science Monitor

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From: Environment News Service, Oct. 25, 2005
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[RPR Introduction: Precautionary action begins by setting a goal, then
taking the steps needed to meet the goal. The European Union has just
set an ambitious goal of cleaning the oceans within 15 years. The
other approach, still being followed by the U.S., examines each
individual discharge into the oceans and asks, "Can the oceans
tolerate this one?" without ever considering the cumulative impact of
all the discharges. The U.S. approach has no hope of cleaning the
oceans, because that is not its goal. The U.S. is asking, "How much
pollution can we get away with?" while the E.U. is asking, "How much
pollution can we avoid?" -- an excellent example of the old risk-based
approach versus a modern precautionary approach. --RPR Editors]

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 25, 2005 (ENS) -- The European Commission
has proposed a new strategy to ensure that all EU marine waters are
environmentally healthy within 15 years. Loss of marine biodiversity
due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the
impact of commercial fishing, and effects of climate change are the
major problems outlined by the Commission that the strategy is
supposed to address. Environmental groups called the plan inadequate.

Presented Monday [Oct. 24, 2005], the Thematic Strategy on the
Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment aims to ensure
that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "Europe's seas and oceans
make a huge contribution to our quality of life and our economic
prosperity, but they are deteriorating because of over-exploitation,
pollution, climate change and a range of other factors."

"This is an area where there is a strong need for a European
overarching and integrated approach," Dimas said. "We want to ensure
that European citizens today and in the future are able to benefit
from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in

The evidence of the deterioration of the marine environment continues
to accumulate, pointing to potentially irreversible changes -- as
illustrated by the poor state of certain fish stocks in Europe or the
effects of eutrophication on the marine ecology of the Baltic Sea.

The current deterioration of the marine environment and the associated
erosion of its ecological capital, jeopardizes the generation of
wealth and employment opportunities derived from Europe's oceans and
seas, such as fisheries and tourism, the Commission warned. The
Commission has developed an integrated policy framework to help deal
with the pressures and negative impacts on the marine environment.
Dimas says the strategy lays down clear operational guidelines on how
to achieve good environmental status for all of the EU's marine areas
by 2021.

But the new marine strategy was immediately criticized by Europe's
largest environmental groups. BirdLife International, Greenpeace, the
International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, Seas At Risk, WWF, the
Fisheries Secretariat and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB),
which represents 143 member organizations in 31 countries, called the
"desperately inadequate."

The groups say they regret that the strategy contains no binding
commitment to protect Europe's seas, saying "the protection of marine
habitats and biodiversity is essential for the future of the marine
ecosystems and the fisheries sector."

The environmental groups agree that the marine waters are in bad
shape. Chronic overfishing has placed 38 of 43 fish stocks at risk,
and hundreds of thousands of tons of oil are discharged every year
into European waters, they point out.

The proposal was expected to fill a gap in the EU environmental
policy, which is focused on land. "But the Commission's text falls
short," the groups said. "It is now the responsibility of the European
Parliament and Council to set legally binding objectives within this
Directive, including a clear definition of what constitutes a healthy

The Commission says they strategy will build upon what has been
achieved so far at all levels of governance to protect Europe's seas.

The 25 EU member states share responsibility for the Baltic Sea, the
Northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, each of which has
its own distinctive environmental characteristics. To take account of
regional differences, the common objectives and methods set forth in
the Commission proposal are to be implemented at the level of marine
regions. Member states sharing a marine area will be responsible for
working in close cooperation to develop plans designed to ensure good
environmental status in their marine waters, Dimas explained.

The member states' plans are to include a detailed assessment of the
state of the environment, defining what achieving good environmental
status means in the context of each regional sea. They will also
contain clear environmental targets and monitoring programs.

No specific management measures will be set down at EU level, but
national plans must be checked and approved by the Commission.

Member states share marine areas with countries that are not members
of the European Union and an important part of achieving good
environmental status will involve close co-operation with these third
countries, within the framework of existing regional seas conventions,
Dimas said.

Each member state will draw up a program of cost-effective measures
aimed at delivering good environmental status of the marine
environment. Impact assessments, including detailed cost-benefit
analyses of the measures proposed, will be required prior to the
introduction of any new measure. The national programs must be
approved by the Commission.

The marine strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies the
Commission is required to propose under the EU's Sixth Environmental
Action Programme. The other strategies will cover air pollution, waste
prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils,
pesticides and the urban environment.

The air pollution strategy was presented on September 21, 2005. The
other Strategies are due to be presented over the next few months.

The marine strategy is set out in a Communication, accompanied by a
proposal for a Directive and the analysis underpinning the development
of the strategy is contained in an accompanying Impact Assessment.

The full marine strategy is available here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.

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From: Washington Toxics Coalition, Sept. 28, 2005
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By Angela Storey

SEATTLE -- Last week [September 21, 2005], the Seattle School Board
unanimously adopted a cutting-edge policy to protect students from
exposure to hazardous pesticides at school. The Seattle School
District is now the largest district in the state to eliminate uses of
the most toxic pesticides.

"Seattle Public Schools takes our commitment to the health of our
students, staff, and the planet very seriously," said district Board
President Dr. Brita Butler-Wall, who pushed for adoption of the
policy. "We have embraced the concept of healthy learning environments
through a strong policy preventing possible exposure to toxic
chemicals such as pesticides."

The policy responds to growing evidence that pesticides can interfere
with children's ability to learn and cause other serious health
problems. Under the new policy, pesticides linked to cancer, nervous
system damage, and other health risks will be avoided.

The policy is a result of years of work by dedicated school district
employees, board members, and community members. A Community Advisory
Committee including district staff members, parents, doctors, and
experts drafted the policy recommendations.

The policy and procedures include:

* Use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) at all school sites, with a
focus on pest prevention and use of only least-toxic pesticides.

* Clear criteria for evaluating pesticides that eliminates the use of
pesticides that can contribute to cancer, nervous system damage,
reproductive harm, hormone disruption, or damage to the environment.
Exceptions to the criteria are evaluated for emergencies or persistent

* Prior notification of pesticide use to all parents and staff members
when the law requires, and an expanded posting system.

* Creation of an on-going IPM committee to assist with implementation,
consisting of district staff and community members.

"The Seattle School District has taken a tremendous step forward by
drawing the line and saying toxic pesticides don't belong in our
schools," said Angela Storey, healthy schools coordinator for the
Washington Toxics Coalition, and chair of the Community Advisory
Committee that drafted the policy proposal. "Pest problems can be
prevented and solved without compromising the health of our children
or our environment."

Seattle joins several other districts in Washington with strong
pesticide-reduction policies, including the Vancouver, Bainbridge
Island, and Sedro-Woolley districts. The policy will now go into
effect at all of Seattle's 100 sites.


The Washington Toxics Coalition is a 501(c)3 non-profit that
protects public health and the environment by eliminating toxic

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From: Cape Times (Cape Town, South Africa), Nov. 29, 2005
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By Anel Powell

While anti-culling lobbyists on Monday launched a vehement attack on a
"trigger-happy" South African National Parks (SANParks) for their
proposal to cull at least 6,000 elephants in the Kruger National Park,
government representatives urged groups to concentrate on the facts,
not the emotions.

Speaking after a series of presentations by the Elephants Alive
Coalition, JP Louw, head of communication for the environment and
tourism department, said: "We need an African solution for what is
essentially an African problem."

Louw revealed that the closed meeting was "quite emotional" as
role players from both sides of the debate presented their case to the

According to SANParks, there are more than 12,000 elephants roaming
the Kruger Park. This overpopulation is considered a threat to the
area's biodiversity, especially as the number is expected to rise to
34,000 by 2020. Culling has been offered as a possible solution.

Elephants Alive called for "more compassionate solutions" to Kruger's
elephant problem, such as contraception and the erection of corridors
to control elephant movement.

The coalition criticised SANParks' lack of consultation, their refusal
to look at "compelling scientific data" opposing culling and their
misinterpretation of environmental law.

Lawyer David Bilchitz said the precautionary principle contained in
the Environment and Development declaration states that where there
are threats of serious damage, "lack of scientific certainty shall not
be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental

He said SANParks was interpreting the clause to their advantage,
without admitting that the culling could also affect the biodiversity
of the park and cause serious damage.

If SANParks persisted in citing the clause as justification for
culling, Bilchitz said opposition groups would challenge them, and the
government, in court.

Keith Lindsay, scientific adviser for Care for the Wild International,
said SANParks' estimate of 6,000 elephants that should be culled was
not based on scientific data.

Although SANParks has not ruled out the sale of tusks, meat and hides
from culled elephants, the coalition said this would only add R4-
million to the coffers. Meanwhile, more than R72-billion was
contributed to the national economy in 2002 by tourism.

"People come to South Africa to see the elephants."

Barbara Maas, of Care for the Wild, said of Monday's ministerial
meeting: "We hope there will be ongoing dialogue as there is so much
at stake, economically and ethically."

Will Travis, of UK-based Born Free, said: "He (Van Schalkwyk) could be
the minister that goes down in history as the culling minister, or he
could be remembered for being the one who looked at alternatives."

Louw said: "We heard a number of presentations and the one positive is
that everyone is committed to finding a solution."

This article was originally published on page 6 of Cape Times on
November 29, 2005

Copyright 2005 Independent Online

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

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