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Senator Bashes White House Proposal on Pollutants

Environment: The plan for enacting a global treaty fails to address dealing with future harmful substances.

April 12, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — James M. Jeffords, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, took issue Thursday with a White House proposal to enact a treaty phasing out a dozen highly toxic chemicals without offering a means to eliminate future pollutants.

"To send up this proposal without the ability to regulate new harmful substances is shortsighted and does not fulfill our commitment to this global treaty," said Jeffords (I-Vt.), who introduced a bill that would restore such an ability.

The treaty contains a provision for dealing with future pollutants; the administration's legislation enabling Congress to enact the treaty is missing that provision.

Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), is sponsoring the White House effort to have the Senate ratify the Clinton-era treaty on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, and have Congress pass legislation enabling the treaty.

"This needs to be done and be done quickly," said Smith, who was Jeffords' predecessor as chairman of the committee.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman signed the POPs treaty on behalf of the United States on May 23. A year after promising to ask the Senate to ratify the treaty, President Bush formally submitted his request Thursday.

The administration offered Congress no advice on how to meet the treaty's goal of adding future pollutants to the hit list.

At least one of EPA's earlier drafts, a copy of which was obtained by Associated Press, provided a mechanism for anticipating what chemicals might be added to the phase-out.

The disputed provision would allow additional chemicals to be banned only after a rigorous scientific review involving analysis by a science committee and approval by a majority of nations involved. In the administration's latest proposal, the agency and the State Department left that process out.

"It got so complicated to find language that was comprehensive enough and yet didn't tie our hands or would be something that could be accepted by the rest of the world community," Whitman said. "We still embrace the idea that there are going to be future chemicals that are going to be added."

EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen Johnson said Bush administration officials would work with Congress on the legislation, and that senior EPA staff members would meet with their counterparts from other countries in June to discuss the process for "balancing risks and benefits" of banning future chemicals.

Some said the Bush administration's shift makes it more likely that Congress will either not deal with the issue or will approve a process for including new chemicals that would require amending the enabling law.

"The Bush administration proposal ties the EPA's hands, limiting domestic implementation to 12 POPs already regulated in the U.S.," said Dr. Robert K. Musil, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, an advocacy group.

Most of the pollutants among the group commonly referred to as the "dirty dozen"--PCBs, dioxins and furans, along with DDT and other pesticides--are no longer used in industrialized countries such as the United States, but many are still widely used in developing nations.

Production and use of nine of the 12 chemicals would be banned as soon as the treaty took effect, which would take at least several years.

About 25 countries would be allowed to continue to use DDT to combat malaria in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines, pending development of safer solutions.

Releases of dioxins and furans--toxic byproducts of waste burning and industrial production--would be reduced and eventually eliminated where feasible, according to the treaty.

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