WASHINGTON — A provision that would require environmental regulators to give special consideration to children is getting wide support in California, mirroring similar, though less far-reaching, efforts in Washington.
Plastics industry lobbyists are casting a wary eye at the California legislation because they fear it could open the gates to tighter air and water regulations based not on good science but on political pressures.
``The concern some of us have as we follow these developments is that as you create new rationales for expanding regulation, there is a danger of abandoning tried-and-true scientific principles,'' said Lewis Freeman, vice president of government affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington.
Supporters of such efforts, however, say science indicates that children, because they are growing, are especially susceptible to environmental hazards, a point they say is not given enough consideration under current regulations.
The California state bill would require that standards for air and drinking water protect children, that air pollution be monitored at schools and that major facilities within a mile of a school develop pollution reduction plans.
The bill would not require additional research and leaves much of the decision-making to state agencies, according to an aide to Assembly member Martha Escutia, D-Huntington Park. Based on federal research, many environmental standards do not protect children adequately, the aide said.
But industry officials say the bill gives detailed instructions to agencies on how to evaluate standards. The legislation would affect all manufacturers, and the plastics industry has joined a coalition of manufacturers to oppose it.
The bill could impose significant new costs on business in a state that already is expensive for manufacturers, according to Laurie Hansen, director of government affairs, western region, for the SPI/American Plastics Council state government affairs unit.
The legislation would apply just to factories and other stationary sources of pollution, but not automobiles, said Jot Condie, legislative director for environmental quality for the California Manufacturers Association.
``It causes huge problems for companies in the South Coast Air Basin, which has the worst pollution in the country mainly due to transportation sources,'' he said. ``Stationary sources are the low-hanging fruit.''
The legislation has passed one legislative chamber and is expected by industry officials and supporters to pass the other. However, a state scientific review office has said the bill duplicates reviews already done by other agencies.
The issue is receiving considerable attention outside California as well.
The Clinton administration this year created a high-level task force on environmental and safety risks for children. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has set up a new office for children's health issues, and will spend $10 million to establish the first federal child health research centers.
``Sound science is a crucial prerequisite in our efforts to protect children's health from environmental hazards,'' said EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
In addition, two California members of Congress introduced federal legislation this year that would tailor environmental regulations to children and other vulnerable populations.
Those bills are stuck in Congress.