- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The European Union’s parliament yesterday approved new controls that are meant to protect people from harmful substances but that would add costs to the chemical industry worldwide and potentially keep products deemed safe in the United States out of a major market.

The European Union’s executive commission in 2003 proposed regulations known as the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (Reach). They would require chemical producers and users to comply with extensive regulations covering roughly 30,000 substances, including hazardous chemicals but also raw materials and other basic products that go into manufacturing shoes, the ink in pens, wallboard and other goods.

The European Union initially estimated registration costs as high as $6 billion over an 11-year period, relatively small when spread out over the entire economy. But industry groups say that new bureaucratic barriers and unnecessary restrictions will cost innovation and potentially European jobs.

“But Reach’s impact isn’t only going to fall on Europe because the United States and other nations are inextricably linked to the EU economy through trade,” Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, said in an article published this month.

The United States exports more than $20 billion in chemical products and invests more than $4 billion in the EU chemical and related industry sectors annually, and U.S. companies export more than $400 billion in products containing chemicals that may fall under the scope of Reach regulations, she said.

Reach rules are still about a year away from final approval and implementation. Governments from the European Union’s 25 member states get a crack at amendments, and the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has a say in the final regulations.

As they stand, the rules shift the regulatory burden away from the government, which must now show that a substance is not safe to ban it, to companies, which would have to prove that substances are safe before they can use them.

Reach will cover an estimated 30,000 substances that are manufactured or imported in quantities greater than 1.1 tons. There is no definitive list of all substances that will qualify, though they include metals, dyes and other commonly used products, as well as carcinogens and toxins.

Companies would compile basic information on and register substances with a newly created European Chemicals Agency.

Member governments would determine which of the 30,000 chemicals would undergo testing, and the EU’s executive would grant — or deny — authorization for substances that pose a particular hazard.

Germany, with the continent’s biggest chemical industry, has led opposition to restrictive Reach rules because of potential harm to manufacturers.

The Bush administration also has taken note, calling the proposal “neither workable nor cost-effective.”

“[Reach] follows a growing trend in Europe of overreaching regulations that appear more to reflect unfounded concerns than actual scientific evidence,” said Robert B. Zoellick, then the U.S. trade representative, in a January letter.

The European Parliament yesterday loosened some requirements for registering chemicals but tightened authorization requirements to encourage use of substitutes for hazardous substances.

Parliament’s president, Josep Borrell, said lawmakers “responded to some of the fears of the Europeans, ensuring competitive jobs together with a high level of protection of health and the environment.”

The compromise left both chemical manufacturers and environmental groups dissatisfied.

“It’s too restrictive,” said Peter Paul van de Wijs, spokesman for the Dow Chemical Co. Mr. van de Wijs, speaking from Horgen, Switzerland, said the company was pleased that legislators eased registration requirements but that the process to authorize their use would be onerous.

Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace and other environmental groups, however, “condemned the decision to severely weaken crucial safety testing requirements for all chemicals covered by Reach.”

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