[This is an expanded version of a December 27, 2010 LA Weekly blog post entitled “Arnold Schwarzenegger backs down on gutting of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative.]

Arnold Schwarzenegger-courtesy Joerg KochIn the face of withering media coverage in LA Weekly and elsewhere, the Schwarzenegger Administration has pulled an about-face on the gutting of new chemical regulations by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

“A wide range of stakeholders, including those from industry, environmental groups, scientists, and legislative leaders, have raised substantial and valid concerns,” wrote Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of Cal-EPA, Secretary Linda Adams, in a letter to Assembly Member Mike Feuer of West Hollywood.

Feuer was one author of legislation creating the Green Chemistry Initiative in 2008 that Schwarzenegger embraced in his vaunted bid to be the ‘Green Governor.’

This about-face comes days less than two weeks after the L.A. Weekly reported in detail the dismantling of the initiative (See: “Schwarzenneger’s Chemical Romance,” Dec. 9).

That piece exposed Schwarzenegger’s last-minute gutting of long-anticipated regulations for chemicals in the state.

But now, writes Linda Adams, “At my request, DTSC has agreed to take additional time to be responsive to the concerns raised and revisit the proposed regulations. I believe this extra time will allow us to create a workable program and address critical policy issues, such as third party verification and prioritization.”

Environmentalists charged that the state toxics department pulled a bait-and-switch in November when the department, known as DTSC, slashed the proposed regulations by a third and put the onus of proving a new chemical is harmful on the overstretched toxics agency instead of on the industry.

The enviros said that the weaker regulations wouldn’t remove toxic products from the shelves and would create “paralysis by analysis,” as industries could litigate against DTSC over unfavorable department decisions.

There more than 85,000 chemicals in use in American consumer products, and about 1,500 are regulated. Many of these chemicals have found their way into the food chain and have reproductive, developmental and carcinogenic effects. The fear is that the proliferation of the use of new and untested chemicals will not only wreck continued havoc on plant and animal species in the environment but harm humans as well.

DTSC’s acting director Maziar Movassaghi defended the rollback on regulations in a December 3 Weekly interview before the policy reversal.

“The thrust of these sections has remained consistent from previous versions,” Movassaghi said. “We strongly believe that the changes that have been made streamline the process, so that we can move forward much quicker.”

Environmentalists were outraged. Then they mobilized.

“[W]e had great coverage from LA Weekly, SF Chronicle, and more,” read a December 13 action alert from Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles.

“Dozens of groups and individuals demand this regulation be withdrawn immediately, including the author of AB 1879 and members of the Green Ribbon Science Panel.”

The policy flip-flop has DTSC’s Movassaghi singing a different tune.

“We thought it would be better to get it right, rather than just getting it done,” Movassaghi told the San Francisco Chronicle the day after Christmas.

“We are happy to hear that the Green Chemistry Science Panel will be reconvened,” says Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

“Our goal is to go back to the prior version of the regulations which would require producers of toxic products which cannot be redesigned to eliminate toxins, such as fluorescent lighting which contains mercury, to properly manage them — and not externalize recycling costs onto the public sector,” Sanborn tells the Weekly.

She adds: “No more state imposed ‘disposal bans without management plans.'”

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