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[greenyes] European Influence on US Environmental Laws




NY TIMES

European Environmental Rules Propel Change in U.S.

By OTTO POHL

BRUSSELS - When Darcy White of Raytown, Mo., chose to breast-feed her baby
daughter two years ago, she had never heard of brominated flame retardants.
But after randomly participating in a study, she learned that her breast
milk carried unusually high levels of the chemicals.

Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced an agreement
with chemical manufacturers to phase out the worst of these toxic compounds,
which are present in a wide variety of consumer goods like furniture and
computer monitors, and Congress is considering legislation to make the ban
permanent.

But it was only after the chemicals had been banned here in Europe that
sufficient political pressure built for a phaseout in the United States.

That cycle was no accident. Globalization has often been condemned as
encouraging a race to the bottom as multinationals seek the cheapest and
least regulated place to do business. But increasingly, American
environmental and public health advocates see globalization as a way to
start a race to the top. They are taking their issues to the European Union,
hoping to use regulations there as a lever for regulations in the United
States.

"We are putting more resources into Europe than we otherwise would have
done," says Charlotte Brody, coordinator of Health Care Without Harm, a
Washington-based group attempting to reduce harmful substances in hospital
supplies. "We desperately need the E.U. to be raising the bar and show what
is possible."

Environmental groups, too, are working more closely with European lawmakers.

"We feel that Europe is a real opportuni ty," says Ned Helme, executive
director for the Center for Clean Air Policy in Washington. Once Europe
moves ahead on programs to curb the gases believed to cause global warming,
Mr. Helme believes, it will promote change in the United States. "We're
pushing where the opportunity for innovation is greatest," he said.

The regulations affect a broad range of American chemical, energy and
electronics companies, and industry groups say bureaucrats they did not
elect are wielding unprecedented power over them, based on insufficient
evidence of harm.

"The E.U. is going where no man has gone before," says James Lovegrove,
managing director of the European division of the American Electronics
Association, a United States industry lobby. "The moment the ink hits the
paper in Europe it becomes a global piece of legislation.''

The generally stricter European laws reflect a different philosophical
approach to regulation, says Dr. Indra Spiecker, a lawyer specialized in
comparative law and assistant professor for American law at the University
of Osnabrück in Germany. American lawmakers primarily look to cost-benefit
analysis, which holds that the benefit of imposing regulation should
outweigh its cost. European nations have more readily embraced what is
called the precautionary principle. Essentially, Europeans emphasize the
cost of inaction, while Americans tend to focus on the cost of action.

"Fifteen years ago consumer issues would start in the United States and
sweep over to Europe," says Ursula Schliessner, a product safety lawyer at
McKenna Long & Aldridge in Brussels. "Now when there are consumer issues in
the E.U. they trigger reactions in the United States."

"...
"...

"...

A co-author of the current legislation in Congress, Representative Diana
DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, also says the European action against the
substance was important to raise the issue in the United States. "The fact
that the E.U. is taking steps really helps give us an argument" to ban the
substances, she said.

European legislation can have an even more immediate impact in an area like
consumer electronics. Because of the global nature of the electronics
business, a multinational that redesigns its product to eliminate a
substance banned in the E.U. often finds it cheaper to sell that product
worldwide.

One such law that came into force last year limits or eliminates metals used
in electronics considered particularly noxious when they leach into the
environment.

The E.U. is now considering sweeping new regulation of its chemical industry
that has unleashed what analysts here say is the biggest lobbying effort in
Brussels ever mounted by American industry.

The new law, known as Reach, would place the burden of proof of safety on
the producers before its sale, rather than waiting for problems to spur
regulation later. It would force American chemical companies to comply with
the legislation in order to continue exporting to Europe - and raises the
fear of similar legislation in the United States.

The chemical industry points out that few if any of the unregulated
chemicals are causing obvious health crises and says the legislation is
overly bureaucratic and expensive. The American Chemical Council has
marshaled its members to alter or derail the legislation.

But American environmental groups are eagerly supporting the law. "This is
the place where the action is," says Tony Long, director of the World
Wildlife Fund European policy office. He sees the potential effects of Reach
broader than its technical jurisdiction. "This will have results around the
world," he says.

###
_________________________
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