Bush Administration Blocks Progress on Toxics Treaty
National environmental and public health groups denounce obstruction that threatens public health
Press Release Date: November 1, 2002
Leading national environmental and public health groups denounced the Bush Administration today for its 11th-hour obstruction of Senate legislation implementing the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). The Administration sat out the negotiations for the past 18 months, and its recent objections in effect ended all hopes of making the POPs treaty law in the 107th Congress.
“It’s outrageous that the Bush Administration continues to balk at proposals to implement the treaty while refusing to engage in constructive or meaningful ways,” said Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H., Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The international community has recognized that POPs pose a threat to public health around the world, but the White House continues to drag its feet.”
The Stockholm Convention mandates the phase out and ultimate elimination of POPs, a dangerous class of chemicals that includes highly toxic dioxins and PCBs as well as pesticides such as chlordane. POPs pose a global hazard because of their toxicity to animals and people, their persistence in the environment, their ability to travel long distances on air and water currents, and their propensity to build up in food chains. They have become common contaminants of fish and other marine life, dairy products, and other foods. Many Americans may now carry enough POPs in their body fat to cause serious health problems, including reproductive and developmental abnormalities, cancer, and immune system disruption. Arctic ecosystems and their indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately from POPs contamination and can no longer safely consume many of their traditional foods.
Although President Bush publicly claimed to support the Convention in a Rose Garden ceremony in April 2001 and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman signed the treaty in May 2001, the Administration’s actions since then have undermined that commitment. Legislation introduced on behalf of the White House in April 2002 failed to include a provision, known as an “adding mechanism,” that would allow EPA to add new chemicals to the list of prohibited POPs in the future. Omission of this key requirement would gut one of the most important parts of the treaty.
“The governments negotiating the Stockholm Convention believed they were creating a dynamic, science-based treaty that anticipates future toxic threats-not one that just addresses ‘dinosaur’ chemicals already banned by most countries,” said Brooks Yeager, Vice President for World Wildlife Fund’s Global Threats Program, and the former chief U.S. negotiator of the treaty. “Negotiators agreed that the addition of future POPs should be at the heart of this treaty. It is very disappointing that the Bush Administration is turning its back on the Stockholm Convention.”
In contrast to the Administration bill, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) introduced the POPs Implementation Act of 2002 (S.2118), which includes this “adding mechanism.” The Jeffords bill has been pending in the Senate for nearly six months, allowing ample time for representatives of the chemical industry, public interest groups, and Senators from both sides of the aisle to negotiate details. The White House, however, refused to provide any constructive advice even after EPA finally acknowledged the need for the adding mechanism on September 27. On October 9, EPA confirmed its lack of commitment to the treaty by proposing multiple hurdles to thwart the elimination of new dangerous chemicals. The Administration’s stalling tactics effectively stymied progress on the bill during the crucial days before the Senate recessed.
“It’s disgraceful that the Administration is still undermining progress more than 18 months after Administrator Whitman signed the POPs treaty,” said Pep Fuller, Oceana’s Senior International Adviser and former chief EPA negotiator of the treaty. “The American public wants real protection from toxic threats and Senator Jeffords’ bill would do just that.”