Reforming chemical safety laws is good for business

February 10, 2010|By Keith Scott

Like their counterparts across the nation, Baltimore County businesses face difficulties during these tough economic times. Here, we are blessed with many advantages: a skilled work force, dynamic businesses, an increasing number of companies in cutting-edge fields like biotechnology, and one of the world's great natural harbors - the Port of Baltimore.

The mission of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce is to promote a diverse and vibrant business community and enhance prosperity for the Baltimore region. Often, we seek to do so through state and local business advocacy. On occasion, however, we venture into federal waters if an issue arises that is of significant importance to us.

Chemical safety reform is one of those issues. Businesses large and small - especially companies from the emerging scientific fields that we are trying to attract to the Baltimore region - rely heavily on a wide range of chemicals. But our nation's chemical safety laws haven't been updated in more than three decades. Not only is this problematic for consumers, who are insufficiently protected by out-of-date chemical safety methods, but also for businesses, which currently face a hodgepodge of state chemical safety laws. Any company that does business out of state - and that's an ever-growing number - must contend with sometimes-contradictory regulations and increased administrative costs.

To remedy this, businesses in the Baltimore area and across the country are looking to the federal government for a solution. What we need is for Congress, which is currently considering reform of the main body of federal laws that govern chemical safety, to update these laws so federal regulations supersede today's confusing disarray of state statutes. By creating a single standard, businesses would be freed from unnecessary red tape, improved standards and methods could be used in chemical safety oversight, and citizens would be more equally protected across the country.

While the Baltimore County Chamber and other business organizations are calling for the federalization of chemical safely laws, we do so with caution. What we do not need is for the federal government to replace the burden of confusing state laws with overbearing federal regulations that do as much, or more, to stifle business growth.

Nearly everyone agrees that our nation's chemical safety laws should be updated. After more than 30 years, it's time for our regulatory system to catch up with the product and safety advancements of the private sector. As one of the leading voices for business in the Baltimore region, the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce joins the call for chemical safety reform.

But we also call on Congress to show balance in its approach. With the right set of policies, we can do a better job of protecting our citizens while also stimulating economic growth and maintaining and creating jobs. The chemicals industry represents a significant part of our national and regional economies. Taken together with the key role chemical products play in nearly every other economic sector, one begins to realize the scope of the question at hand.

If the government enacts responsible reform - better protecting citizens without unnecessarily adding to the bureaucratic burden of chemical companies and those that rely on their products - this will prove an economic boon.

Responsible reform means an Environmental Protection Agency that is provided adequate human and monetary resources to make safety determinations. It also means establishing a system of prioritization, in which the chemicals that are deemed most likely to present possible risk to consumers are addressed first, with chemical reviews conducted in an orderly fashion so that industrial activity is not stifled.

The time to act is now, but action must be accompanied by prudence. The Maryland congressional delegation should work to make chemical safety reform a reality - and to make sure this new reality both better protects citizens and allows businesses to grow us out of our current negative economic condition, here in Maryland and across the country.

Keith Scott is president and CEO of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. His e-mail is kscott@baltcountychamber


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