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Policy Matters

Stand up for water, safer chemicals and GMO labeling

They may sound wonky, but several proposals winding through Capitol Hill could have major implications for sustainability-minded businesses.

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 water to chemicals to GMO labeling, 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.

Wade into the water debate

Last month, the EPA released its final Clean Water Rule, also sometimes known as the Waters of the U.S. rule. The rule clarifies the definitions of bodies of water that are subject to the Clean Water Act, following two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that called the EPA’s authority into question.

The rule went through a comment period last year; the comment period was extended twice due to a strong public response.

However, Congress has considered legislation that would prevent the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the rule, and is threatening to use the Congressional Review Act to try to derail the rule.

What’s at stake

Clean water is a necessary input for so many businesses, including food and drink production, tourism and manufacturing.

In national, scientific polling last year, 80 percent of small business owners, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, favored rules protecting upstream headwaters — which this rule does. A full 71 percent said that clean water protections are necessary to ensure economic growth.

Allowing the rule to go forward would help settle the debate and help contribute to business confidence.

What you can do

The EPA has finished its rulemaking process, but some in Congress are trying block the rule during the 60-day review period. It is still important for businesses to stand up in support of clean water.

Add your business's voice here.

Clarity for chemicals

Earlier this month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed chemical reform legislation, moving it to the full House for a vote expected the week of July 22.

The bill, the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576), would represent the first reform to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since its passage in 1976. Another reform bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S.697), is under consideration in the Senate.

Among other things, the House’s bill would require EPA to review 10 chemicals per year, and require companies to substantiate new claims of confidential business information (CBI). Businesses would have to re-substantiate those claims every 10 years.

What’s at stake

While the House’s bill makes several improvements over the Senate legislation, including stronger provisions on preemption and requirements for testing of chemicals, it still falls short.

Of particular concern is the potential for an unlimited number of industry-initiated safety reviews, which could swamp EPA with low-concern chemicals and crowd out the agency’s capacity to review the most harmful chemicals in Congress.

Previously existing CBI claims would be grandfathered in, with no opportunity for the EPA to address them. All of this would make it harder for chemical reform to improve transparency, safety and innovation — and continue to put forward-thinking companies at a disadvantage.

What you can do

As these reform bills continue to move through Congress, the business community needs to speak up for stronger action. Join the Companies for Safer Chemicals Coalition and show Congress you want TSCA reform that focuses on transparency, safety and innovation.

Getting a handle on GMOs

The House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research is considering a piece of legislation dealing with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599).

Despite its name, the bill would not contribute to making food labeling more accurate; it would institute a voluntary system for labeling GMOs, and block states from instituting their own mandatory labeling rules, as several already have considered doing.

What’s at stake

Instituting a voluntary labeling system would only institutionalize the status quo, because companies already are not forced to label their products. 

Blocking states from going a step further actually would represent a step backward on this. Labeling GMOs would not represent a major cost — companies change their labels all the time — but would give consumers the confidence to know what they were purchasing, even if they were comfortable purchasing GMO products.

What you can do

The bill is still being considered in Congress, which means it is important that the business community speaks out in favor of real transparency. Add your company's voice to this GMO campaign to show that businesses aren’t afraid of GMO labeling.

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