Business & Economy

House reneges on toxic chemicals agreement, Lyons says

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said the state should invest in thermal efficiency programs during a news conference at the Main Street Landing train station in Burlington on Thursday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

A House version of a bill to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products will not have an easy time in the Senate, the bill’s lead sponsor said.

“I think we’ve budged as far as we can go,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, who introduced the legislation.

House lawmakers Wednesday voted to strike several Senate changes expanding the scope of S.239, including Lyons’ amendment allowing the health department to require manufacturers to label or remove chemicals it considers harmful from products that children come into contact with.

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, worked with industry representatives this session to limit the program’s scope to products marketed to children 12 and under.

“If it were my personal choice as opposed to making a public policy that affects all of the manufacturers in Vermont … I would want anything a kid could possibly touch in the bill,” Deen said. “In order to facilitate manufacturing in the state of Vermont, that’s an incredible burden.”

With three days left before planned adjournment, Lyons said the House changes will not fly in the Senate. The changes return the bill to the original House version, she said, and were not part of an agreement ironed out over the weekend with House lawmakers.

“If they are going to go back on that agreement that would be unfortunate,” Lyons said. “It would do exactly what people who are opposed to the bill want to have happened. And that would be to kill it.

“Would you rather kill the bill or kill the children?” she said.

The Shumlin administration does not want to create a program that burdens manufacturers and supports the more lenient House version of the bill.

“It’s just not clear,” said Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, referencing the Senate’s definition of children’s products.

“It’s really important to use that as it goes forward … that it be clear,” Johnson said. “In order to protect kids and do what the bill wants to do, you don’t want to be caught all the time arguing back and forth about what it means.”

He said a “workable” bill is one that achieves a maximum benefit to public health and a minimal cost to manufacturers and the state to administer the program. This means adopting legislation consistent with existing state programs, he said.

“An out-of-state company, frankly, has the option to say ‘I’m not going to sell here,’ if they think the burden is too high,” Johnson said. “We’re not the biggest market in the world. An in-state company, on the other hand, is here, and what do they do?”

Industry representatives, who have lobbied hard against the bill this session, support the House’s version of a program intended to “harmonize” with Washington state’s reporting program.

“It’s easier to comply with,” said Bill Driscoll, vice president of the trade organization Associated Industries of Vermont. “We oppose setting up a statewide regulatory regime. But between the two, we prefer the House version.”

Andy Hackman, a lobbyist for the Toy Industry Association, said he opposes a Senate amendment that requires manufacturers to report to the health department all chemicals “present in” products sold in the state. This is a change from only chemicals “intentionally added” to products.

This would be a large departure from Washington state’s program and would require manufacturers to report a wider range of chemicals that may not pose a threat to human health, he said. The bill also sets up a biannual $200 reporting fee to support the program.

The House voted Wednesday to return the bill’s language to “intentionally added.”

Janet Doyle, a representative for IBM, said she opposes a Senate amendment that would give the health commissioner authority to determine whether certain chemicals are considered trade secrets and therefore exempt from the reporting requirement.

“I would question the commissioner’s background and ability to make that judgment,” Doyle said.

Lyons’ amendment this week gave the health commissioner full authority to regulate chemicals. The previous House version required a working group set up under the bill to first make a recommendation on whether to regulate chemicals. The House reinstated that clause Wednesday.

House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources vice chair Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, supports the Senate’s version. He warned the bill would “disappear into a black hole” if the House did not concur with its counterpart, which, he said, “has the greater wisdom” on the issue.

In the latest version of the House bill, the working group is composed of scientists, a Vermont business and toy industry representative, two public health advocates and other members appointed by the governor. Both the House and the Senate agree the working group strikes a balance between industry and public health advocates.

Lyons said it is a sad day when the state does not have the support that it needs to protect children from toxic chemicals.

“There are more lobbyists in this building than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “We know that the American Chemistry Council and the Toy (Industry) Association is working in 50 states to keep states from having any regulation in toxic chemicals on consumer products and apparently it’s working. And it’s working from the top down in our government.”

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John Herrick

About John

John Herrick joined VTDigger in June 2013 as an intern working on the searchable campaign finance database and is now VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. He wrote for the Vermont Cynic, university’s student newspaper, before interning and later freelancing for the Burlington Free Press.

Email: [email protected]

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