Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 21, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Congress is about to do another huge favor for the chemical industry -- pre-empting the right of states and local governments to regulate pesticides. With the Congress beholden to Big Money and forever on the take, states need to retain independent power to protect the health of their citizens.]

Republicans prepare another gift to the chemical industry.

Next time you hear congressional Republicans proclaiming reverence for states' rights, minimal federal authority, government closest to the people and all that gas, think about last week's pesticides farce. On a party-line vote, GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce committee approved a White House-backed measure that would essentially eliminate a state's right to ban pesticides without approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This is not a trivial issue, nor a theoretical one. EPA inaction has prompted several states to outlaw or sharply restrict pesticides and other industrial chemicals on their own. Some Minnesota legislators think this state should phase out the herbicide atrazine, strongly implicated in frog deformities but, after a series of industry- friendly reviews, still blessed by EPA.

Nor is this our one-party national government's first effort to preempt state authority in areas of public health and environmental protection. The assaults on California's auto-emissions rules come to mind, and there is persistent talk of a challenge to aggressive mercury-reduction plans adopted by Minnesota and other states. A count by House Democrats last month cited 27 new laws limiting states' rights to set their own policies on such matters as pollution control, power-plant siting and food safety.

The unifying objective is to give industries the standardized and milder regulatory environment they prefer. But the official justification, of course, is always something loftier. In the case of the pesticide legislation, it's bringing the United States into the community of nations that have ratified the Stockholm Convention.

This treaty was negotiated in Bill Clinton's administration and signed by President Bush in 2001. It isn't particularly burdensome to American business, as yet; the "dirty dozen" substances it outlaws are already banned or sharply restricted in this country. But the Senate's Republican majority has been in no hurry to seal the deal -- until recently.

Since the treaty took effect in 2004, some of the other 127 signatories have proposed to ban additional chemicals. Now the U.S. companies that make, sell or use them are keen to have their interests protected at the negotiating table.

Rep. Paul Gillmor, an Ohio Republican, was happy to offer a series of amendments needed to bring U.S. laws into line with the treaty -- and also, while he was at it, to throw in some irrelevant gifts to the chemical industry. Besides preemption of state autonomy, there's a requirement that EPA undertake a cost-benefit analysis in assessing new restrictions, instead of simply looking at harm to public health. Other provisions would lengthen a review process already glacial, neatly allowing the United States to influence future revisions of the Stockholm pact while postponing compliance.

The politicization of the EPA is an old, sad story, told compellingly by former EPA chiefs of both parties. This latest move continues that shameful history, and offers a crystal-clear illustration of why states must retain independent power to protect their citizens' health.