The False Trade-off Between Green Energy and Toxic Chemical Regulation
The long and tortuous effort to control toxic chemicals in America has now come up against an ironic obstacle: anti-environmental lobbying by the manufacturers of batteries and other renewable energy technologies that depend on toxic substances. The successful effort by the chemical industry to withstand regulation picked up steam within the Eighties. Now they’re asking renewable energy manufacturers to hitch them as allies. Their argument is consistent and deadly: “Regulation stifles innovation and economic growth. If we’re required to follow environmental rules, we are going to lose within the competition against firms from nations that do not need those rules.” The result has been a more toxic environment and significant damage to human and ecological health. The chemical industry has been successful in defeating and delaying nearly all regulations on toxic chemicals. Tens of 1000’s of latest substances have been introduced by the chemical industry for the reason that Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976, but only a handful have been regulated. The strengthening of TSCA in 2016 has still not modified the toxic facts on the bottom. Even once we know that chemicals have toxic impacts, they are sometimes used indiscriminately. And now we see one other variant on the industry’s strategy: arguing that the transition to renewable energy requires toxic chemicals. As Eric Lipton reported last week within the Latest York Times:
“The Biden administration is preparing to impose some of the primary recent rules in a generation to limit or ban an array of toxic chemicals which might be widely utilized in manufacturing, presenting the White House with tough selections between its economic agenda and public health. Lots of the substances in query are necessary to industries that President Biden has backed through other policies intended to bolster global competitiveness and national security, similar to semiconductors and electric vehicles. Corporations are framing the choices about recent regulations for an initial group of toxic chemicals as putting in danger the administration’s drive to nurture the American economy of the long run. Environmental and public health groups are stressing the necessity to deal with protecting staff and communities from substances known to hold health risks, similar to cancer, liver and kidney damage and infertility. A significant lobbying clash is already underway. Chip makers, the burgeoning electric vehicle industry and other firms, including military contractors, are pressuring the administration to water down the brand new rules, saying the repercussions of a ban or recent restrictions could possibly be crippling.”
Despite the arguments made by some in business, it is feasible to cut back the usage of toxics and still grow an organization. Furthermore, most regulations in America are introduced steadily and firms often have years to totally comply with recent environmental rules. The problem here is that America’s dominant anti-regulatory ideology seems to have convinced many businesses and their lobbyists that each one rules are bad for business. History seems to exhibit that the other is true. Regulations provide opportunities for innovation and sometimes lead to recent business formation. Someone must make the airbags, catalytic converters, and seat belts. Sometimes the technical capability needed to comply with a recent rule is deployed elsewhere in the corporate once the rule has been implemented. The motorized vehicle of today is more computerized and fewer mechanical than motorcars of the twentieth century. Cars are lighter, more fuel efficient, safer, and more reliable. Often these recent government requirements create competition around a product’s features that wasn’t in the unique sales pitch. When a family vehicle is purchased, sometimes the automobile’s safety record is the deciding factor. When a recent refrigerator is bought, the annual cost of operating the appliance is now considered together with its retail price. Rules on energy efficiency and operating cost disclosure improve product performance and help consumers make more informed purchases. The issue with regulation is that usually an organization’s culture resists recent rules as inherently anti-business. When firms must comply with rules, elements of a culture of innovation are sometimes force-fed into an organization immune to change. That doesn’t at all times work well.
Nevertheless, there are various examples of firms that don’t wait for the brand new rules to come back, and as a substitute resolve to include pollution reduction into their corporate culture. Apple is an example of an electronics company that has focused on reducing toxics while continuing to grow. In accordance with Apple:
“Apple believes that reducing, restricting, and eventually eliminating the usage of hazardous substances in materials is crucial to make sure the protection of staff who manufacture its products, customers who use its products, and recyclers who handle its products at the tip of the products’ useful life. This commitment to safety has driven Apple to guide the electronics industry in phasing out hazardous substances from its products…Apple initiated its program on safer materials within the early Nineteen Nineties, when some heavy metals and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) were restricted in certain applications. On the time, Apple created a Regulated Substances Specification that required its suppliers to abide by its restrictions on hazardous substances. Restrictions were increased steadily, with a serious change occurring in 2009 when nearly all uses of brominated flame retardants (BFR) and PVC were eliminated.”
The chemical firms have one way or the other convinced people who they need to choose from innovation and health. Once they develop a recent chemical with useful properties, they don’t appear to be too concerned in regards to the negative effects of their invention. The businesses that use these toxic substances of their products appear to imagine that they don’t have any alternatives, but they do. When engineers are given recent design parameters, they often seem to search out recent ways to supply the products they’re working on.
While the trade-off between green energy and controlling toxic chemicals is just not real, I believe some climate policy advocates may accept the argument and can consider control of poisons less necessary than control of greenhouse gasses. This speaks to the dominance of climate change on the environmental policy agenda. I don’t consider either of those issues to be more necessary than the opposite. Actually, each will be subsumed under the general issue of the unanticipated impact of the introduction and use of latest technologies on people and the planet. The science of climate change, its causes, impacts, and even solutions are well-known. Unfortunately, far less research has been undertaken on toxic substances and even less on ecosystems and biodiversity. Climate is a vexing problem for our political and economic systems but not for science and engineering. We all know what we’d like to do. Once we are being realistic, we all know that even easy solutions take a protracted time to implement in the actual world. We all know we’d like to decarbonize, but it is going to take a generation to perform that heavy lift. Many other environmental issues are far less easy. The science is less certain.
Toxic substances have proven to be complicated and difficult to control and the initial 1976 law proved to be incredibly ineffective. In June 2016, late in his second term, President Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the twenty first Century Act. In accordance with the Environmental Defense Fund:
“For a long time, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 had proven ineffective at ensuring the protection of the chemicals utilized in every little thing from household cleaners to clothing and couches. The broken chemical safety system… Allowed tens of 1000’s of chemicals to stay available on the market with none review of their safety…[TSCA] Gave firms wide latitude to say chemical information they submitted to the federal government to be trade secrets and conceal it from the general public and even from state and native governments and medical professionals…The Lautenberg Act gives the EPA the tools essential to make sure the protection of chemicals and significantly strengthen health protections for American families. Notably, the law…Mandates safety reviews for chemicals in lively commerce…Requires a security finding for brand new chemicals before they will enter the market…Replaces TSCA’s burdensome cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented the EPA from banning asbestos — with a pure, health-based safety standard. Makes more details about chemicals available, by limiting firms’ ability to say information as confidential, and by giving states and health and environmental professionals access to confidential information they should do their jobs.”
The Trump administration did virtually nothing to implement this recent law and now, over two years into the Biden administration, a small little bit of progress is finally underway. It could be beyond tragic if the false trade-off between green energy and chemical safety got political and media traction and killed these baby steps at finally regulating a number of the worst poisons in our economy. The toxins in our renewable energy technology must be phased out. They must be replaced with substitutes. These recent rules can stimulate and speed up the pace of technological innovation.