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Regulations' Foes Woo Governor

Industry group sends him a list of state environmental rules that it contends harm business. Some activists voice alarm.

November 26, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

From restrictions on a rocket fuel ingredient in drinking water to regulations on tailpipe exhaust, industry groups are dusting off old arguments against California environmental rules, seeing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration as a fresh chance to assert anew that the state's policies harm business.

The Thursday Group, a coalition of lobbyists for some of the most powerful industries in the state -- including chemical companies, defense contractors, real estate developers and biotechnology firms -- sent the governor a letter last week with a lengthy list of environmental rules that it did not like.

The memo, which was immediately circulated by environmentalists, raised objections over everything from air pollution regulations on consumer products to the California Coastal Commission.

It also voiced concerns regarding impending regulations on perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel that government scientists have linked to health problems, and a landmark law passed last year that makes California the first state to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions of cars.

Industry groups would like California to wait until the National Academy of Sciences evaluates the health hazards of perchlorate before adopting regulations. The lobbyists also contend that California lacks the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists say contribute to global warming.

Some environmental lobbyists expressed alarm over the memo, saying it confirmed their fears that industry groups would press the governor to roll back regulations they had fought hard to secure.

However, many environmental lobbyists shrugged it off as a predicable shot in the dark by their industry opponents, and conceded that they were sending similar memos to the new administration, hoping to reopen old battles they had lost during Gov. Gray Davis' tenure.

"Frankly, I don't think they have a chance of succeeding in any of these arguments. They seem out of touch with what Gov. Schwarzenegger and the majority of Californians support," said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, noting that the governor pledged to pursue an aggressive pro-environment agenda during the recall campaign.

Terry Tamminen, the Santa Monica environmentalist whom Schwarzenegger recently appointed as his secretary of environmental protection, also downplayed the lobbying push, saying everyone had a right to make his feelings known. Schwarzenegger, he said, has said he supports some of the regulations, such as on tailpipe exhaust.

"I just think it's standard operating procedure," Tamminen said. "Any time there is a new administration, people are going to want to restate their case. I don't see that as offensive or improper."

In addition to arguing against rules adopted during the Davis administration, the lobbyists took issue in the memo with an approach to environmental regulation that they fear is beginning to affect policymaking in California: the precautionary principle.

An increasingly influential idea in Europe, it is essentially the belief that private industries, not the public sector, should bear responsibility for demonstrating that their products do not harm human health or the environment.

That preemptive approach is a departure from the current practice in the United States, which largely consists of regulating potential pollutants only after they have been scientifically linked to hazards.

Under recommendations approved this summer by a task force looking to improve environmental conditions in poor and minority communities, the California Environmental Protection Agency is set to incorporate the precautionary principle into some of its procedures. Industry groups hope that Schwarzenegger reconsiders the issue.

"We want to take advantage of the opportunity to present our case on the precautionary principle, which we feel is a radical departure from the science-based procedures currently used by the state," said Tim Shestek, a Sacramento lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council. "We are concerned about the vagueness of the recommendations in the [task force] report, and we want to make sure there is a clear criteria that industry can meet."

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