Policy Matters

Speak out for chemicals rules, clean water and better trade deals

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Successful sustainability initiatives depend on strong laws, oversight and guidelines, and leaders in the business world can make a big difference by fighting for policies that protect the environment. From chemicals to water to international trade, here are three pro-sustainable business policies the American Sustainable Business Council is working on in conjunction with many other organizations — and information on how you can join the cause.

Demand stricter chemicals reform

Competing bills to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) are circulating in the Senate. That’s good because TSCA itself has not been updated since its passage in 1976. But the one likely to move forward, from Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), is not strong enough.

While America’s chemical laws are in desperate need of reform, it’s important that reform be done in such a way that encourages transparency, safety and the innovation of safer and more sustainable alternatives.

That’s the case made by a letter sent to the Senate Environment and Public Works committee by the Companies for Safer Chemicals coalition.

What’s at stake?

Among the problems with the Vitter-Udall bill are that efforts to regulate currently used chemicals could take years, continuing to expose consumers to toxic effects; limiting the number of chemicals the EPA could research at any one time; and instituting additional hurdles to restrict products with chemicals judged to be a hazard.

Other legislation, such as the one introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would do much more to reform chemical law in a way that meets those principles.

What can you do?

Name-brand companies such as Seventh Generation, Naturepedic and Earth Friendly Products are among the hundreds of businesses that have signed on to the Companies for Safer Chemicals coalition. Interested business owners and executives can make their voices heard by signing on.

Urge better trade deals

A pair of trade deals — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — are under negotiation. While TTIP deals with European nations, TPP focuses on Pacific countries, many of them emerging economies in Asia. The Obama Administration is asking for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for these deals — also known as “Fast Track” authority. This would allow them to push the deals through Congress with only limited opportunities for debate and no chances to amend the deals.

What’s at stake?

Much has been made of the secrecy that the TPP has been negotiated under, with small business representatives — and even members of Congress — being excluded from discussions. The idea that this deal therefore could be passed with limited opportunity for debate is bad enough.

Making matters worse, what we know of TPP’s potential impact on the environment is potentially devastating. Some known provisions could hinder alternative energy producers and extend the dominance of coal and oil by blocking regulations and limiting deployment of smart grid and other infrastructure. Others could disadvantage organic farmers and others who employ more environmentally friendly practices.

The deal also could set up an international tribunal, allowing corporations — including foreign or multinational companies — to sue governments for violating any of these provisions.

What can you do?

There’s still time to speak out against the TPP and against giving the administration Trade Promotion Authority. Interested business owners can use this form to send a note to their members of Congress opposing Fast Track and urging them to block any deal that adversely affects our environment and sustainable businesses.

Support cleaner water

Earlier this month, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced that the agency was moving its “Waters of the U.S.” rule ahead to interagency review, the next step before an updated rule can be released. While there was no information on what the final rule would look like, McCarthy made clear that the agency had made changes and clarifications based on the more than 1 million comments the agency received during last year’s comment period.

What’s at stake?

The risks of contaminated water supplies are well-known, and very dangerous to businesses. Companies in many sectors, including agriculture, brewing, tourism and others, rely on clean water — and we’ve seen what can happen when that resource is gone, as with the Elk River spill in West Virginia last year. The EPA's proposed rule will give the business community more confidence that streams and rivers will be protected and provide a consistent regulatory system based on sound science.

What can you do?

While the updated rule is expected to be released soon, the debate continues in Congress, and there is the chance Congress could try to move to override EPA’s authority. There is still a role for businesses to play to show Congress they support protecting clean water. Add your voice to Clean Water for Business campaign.