Taking a Jaunt Across the Pond: 5 Reasons why U.S. Environmental Health Funders Should be Interested in the EU

September 9, 2013
Shorey Myers

This post was written by Shorey Myers, Program Associate for the Jennifer Altman Foundation.

U.S.-based funders and NGOs working on environmental health and chemical policy reform have their hands full. From battling toxic trespass to deciphering industry-influenced legislative proposals and crafting national market campaigns, there is never a shortage of work to be done.

Despite our full plates, I’d like to encourage you to take a moment to cast your gaze across the Atlantic, where the Jenifer Altman Foundation and our European counterparts are paying close attention to current efforts there that could mirror, magnify or derail completely the change we are seeking at home.

The Good:

1. When REACH (the European Union law governing the manufacture and use of chemicals) was enacted in 2007, activists in the United States celebrated the passage of forward-looking legislation. NGOs based in the EU, however, were not as thrilled. Having seen many of their recommendations excised during last minute, closed-door negotiations, many EU activists regarded the approved version of the bill as far from successful. Fast-forward to today: the REACH NGO coalition has re-emerged as a dynamic force in the implementation phase of the law. Far from being a done deal, REACH implementation offers a new opportunity to incorporate scientific and just principles into policy. For funders engaged in the fight to reform the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), work on REACH implementation offers an opportunity to work directly on policy that can serve as a precedent for U.S. reform, and also serves as a preview of TSCA-driven implementation campaigns to come.

2. As a result of the REACH implementation drive, a powerful communication infrastructure has grown among international scientists working on the health effects of chemicals, NGOs supporting policy change, policymakers seeking reputable information on which to base their decisions, and energetic journalists. Funder support has been crucial for two scientific meetings held in the EU – PPTOX III and the Berlin Low Dose Conference – both of which were crafted in partnership with scientists and NGOs to have the most effective media and policy impact.

The Bad

 3. Fracking has hit Europe in a major way, intensified by austerity measures and the promise of cheap fuel. Countries with lax environmental regulations and heavy dependence on external sources of energy are eager to develop fracking sites, and U.S. corporations, including Exxon and Halliburton are more than willing to oblige. Opposition to fracking in Europe is also quite strong. The density of the population and the proximity of fracking sites to major water supplies have united many NGOs and industries against the practice. Additionally, projections of fracking production and profits appear to make little economic sense in the region. Europe can provide a location for a decisive win against fracking, led by HEAL and Friends of the Earth Europe, that could strengthen the case in the U.S.

4. Flying under the radar of many NGOs and foundations is a cross-Atlantic, high-level discussion that has the potential to drastically erode environmental protections in both regions. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement between the United States and the EU on the fast track to approval that is intended to address barriers that slow or block trade efficiency. Those barriers, including the environmental regulations of both regions, would be subject to “harmonization” – most likely to the lowest common denominator of protection. The trade agreement would allow industry to sue governments for allegedly blocking future profits through environmentally protective standards.

Negotiations for the TTIP are ongoing. NGOs monitoring the issue, including CIEL and ClientEarth, report that little is known about the process or implications of the agreement at this point. Continued scrutiny of the negotiations will be necessary from both sides of the Atlantic.

The Ugly

5. Our collaboration with EU colleagues over the last few years has made the following very simple point even more salient: many, if not most, of the forces opposing chemical reform on both sides of the Atlantic share the same corporate roots. These multinational companies share tactics, research and deep pockets in a quest to protect their bottom line. We can only benefit from sharing experiences and engaging in strategic partnerships with our EU colleagues. As an example, the Jenifer Altman Foundation is working with the EU-based Oak Foundation and other funders on the European Environment and Health Initiative (EEHI) in an effort to embed sound science and precautionary principles in REACH implementation regarding endocrine disrupting chemicals. Continued dialogue on cross-Atlantic collaboration between funders and NGOs will be a crucial element of the global effort to reform chemical regulation. We invite our HEFN colleagues to become active participants in this dialogue.

Shorey Myers is Program Associate for the Jenifer Altman Foundation. Shorey has been with the Foundation since 2010. Her work over the past decade includes a strong focus on global environmental health and justice issues, as well as philanthropic support of critical social services. 


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