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U.S., Industry in Sync Over Chemicals

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vice President Al Gore threatened Tuesday to expand government regulations requiring industry to tell Americans about chemicals it releases in their communities, and the chemical industry said it had already approved a plan to do just that.

No sooner had the vice president called for wider testing of chemicals, and greater public access to data about potential health hazards of widely used chemicals, than the Chemical Manufacturers Assn. said that its board of directors had unanimously approved a plan to dramatically increase chemical studies.

As a result, the White House was able to announce a get-tough program to inform the public while the industry proclaimed itself ready to do the environmentally responsible thing.

The Alfonse-Gaston routine was played out as the White House, environmentalists and manufacturers all maneuvered to present themselves as guardians of the nation’s air, water and natural resources.

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Taking advantage of the focus on all things environmental, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a speech Tuesday that the administration would engage in “a diplomatic full-court press” to bring developing nations into the fight against global warming.

It has little choice: The Senate has made clear that it will not approve a climate change treaty that does not demand commitments from the developing nations as well as the industrial giants.

Warning that the world’s climate is indeed growing warmer, Albright said: “This means, to use formal diplomatic language, that we should all get ready to get sweaty.”

President Clinton is planning to spend part of today outdoors, flying by helicopter to West Virginia for a brief hike along the Appalachian Trail, where he also is likely to criticize the Republican Congress’ failure to support his environmental programs.

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Gore melded his announcement of potentially tougher regulation of the chemical industry with his own attack on the House and Senate.

Republicans, he said, are “cozying up to the worst polluters and trying to drag down our environmental standards.”

As Gore spoke in the scenic setting of Rock Creek Park, a lushly wooded preserve in the heart of the capital, the White House issued a statement attacking the Republican majority for what it characterized as “our priorities vs. their dirty deals.”

Responding to the suggestion that it resembled an attack left over from the Clinton-Gore campaign two years ago, a White House official joked: “We freshened it up a bit.”

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Among the differences cited by the White House were congressional efforts, so far unsuccessful, to repeal strengthened air pollution standards imposed last summer, delays in reauthorizing the continuing cleanup of toxic waste dumps under the Superfund program, and a Republican-sponsored bill, defeated in the House last month, that would have promoted additional logging in national forests.

Gore’s announcement goes to the heart of an administration program built around providing data about toxic substances vented into the atmosphere or pumped into neighboring streams by factories. Throughout Clinton’s first term, the Environmental Protection Agency sought to expand public access to such information.

In January, Lynn Goldman, an assistant EPA administrator, met with the Chemical Manufacturers Assn.'s board of directors. By the administration’s account, she pressed the group to speed up its efforts to determine the toxicity of chemicals that its members produce. By the association’s account, the group volunteered to produce such a plan at its next meeting, which took place Tuesday.

When Tuesday arrived, the vice president headed to the park to announce that, because the public lacks health data for three-quarters of the chemicals used in the United States, the administration would ask companies to provide it.

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He held out the threat that if the industry does not step up its studies, the administration would require such work.

Gore also said that the EPA would consider studying the impact of industrial chemicals on children, as well as the impact of chemicals as they accumulate over time in humans.

The chemical manufacturers said that by 2003 they would increase from 25 to 100 the number of chemicals they test each year.

The administration, citing figures that the chemical group did not dispute, said that health-impact data had been assembled on no more than 7% of the approximately 3,000 most widely used chemicals in the United States.

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