Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Safe Chemicals Act of 2010

One of the reasons I am a lawyer and not, say, a medical doctor or research scientist is that my skill with chemistry peaked out right around learning Avogadro's Number (6.02 x 10^23). When it came to balancing equations, things started to break poorly. But, I am one of those non-scientist science geeks that likes to toss around words like "valence number" and "entropy" whenever possible. Entropy is a good one that I use as an excuse for not putting my laundry where it belongs.

Despite my lack of bona fides in the field, I do help companies import and export chemicals. Hence, I was interested to see the introduction of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010. This is essentially a re-write of the current Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The proposed law flips much of the responsibility for proving chemicals to be safe from the current EPA to the companies involved in the production or sale of the merchandise.

Rather than regurgitate (also a nice technical term) my own summary of the bill, here is a link to a summary prepared by its sponsor, Senator Lautenberg. The text of the bill itself is available here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Major Overhaul of Export Controls Proposed

Yes, I do exports too, although not often here. But, this is important news, so I am passing it along.

In a policy speech yesterday, Defense Secretary Gates proposed a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. export control process. Under the current bifurcated system, the State Department controls the exports of munitions and the Commerce Department controls the exports of dual-use technology. According to the proposal, following a three-phase retooling, there will be a single agency charged with licensing and enforcement and a single list to check for licensing requirements.

According to the White House press release, implantation will go like this:

Phase I makes significant and immediate improvements to the existing system and establishes the framework necessary to create the new system, including making preparations for any legislative proposals. This phase includes implementing specific reform actions already in process and initiating review of new ones.

  • Control List – refine, understand, and harmonize definitions to end jurisdiction confusion between the two lists; establishes new independent control criteria to be used to screen items for control into new tiered control list structure.
  • Licensing – implement regulatory-based improvements to streamline licensing processes and standardize policy and processes to increase efficiencies.
  • Enforcement – synchronize and de-conflict enforcement by creation of an Enforcement Fusion Center.
  • IT – determine enterprise-wide needs and begin the process to reduce confusion by creating a single U.S. Government (USG) point of entry for exporters.

Phase II results in a fundamentally new U.S. export control system based on the current structure later this year. This phase completes deployment of specific Phase I reforms and initiates new actions contingent upon completion of Phase I items. Congressional notification will be required to remove munitions list controls or transfer items from the munitions list to the dual-use list, and additional funding will be required both for enhanced enforcement and the IT infrastructure.

  • Control List – restructure the two lists into identical tiered structures, apply criteria, remove unilateral controls as appropriate, and submit proposals multilaterally to add or remove controls.
  • Licensing – complete transition to mirrored control list system and fully implement licensing harmonization to allow export authorizations within each control tier to achieve a significant license requirement reduction which is compatible with national security equities.
  • Enforcement – expand outreach and compliance.
  • IT – transition toward a single electronic licensing system.

Phase III completes the transition to the new U.S. export control system. Legislation would be required for this phase:

  • Control List – merge the two lists into a single list, and implement systematic process to keep current.
  • Licensing – implement single licensing agency.
  • Enforcement – consolidate certain enforcement activities into a Primary Enforcement Coordination Agency.
  • IT – implement a single, enterprise-wide IT system (both licensing and enforcement).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crypto-Customs

From past off-topic posts, you may know that I am a fan of the blog Cryptomundo on which Loren Coleman and others report on the science and pseudo-science (generally in the comments more than the posts) of searching for hidden animals. You know, hunting for Bigfoot, Nessie, and their ilk. One such creature is the Steller Sea Cow. Unlike other cryptids, the SSC was a species known to science. It was, however, hunted to extinction by the end of the 18th century. Despite that, there appears to be hope in some quarters that the SSC, like the alleged Congolese sauropod Mokele-Mbembe and lingering Tasmanian thylacines, may still survive in isolated populations.

Why am I bringing this up here? Because everyday (more or less), I check the Federal Register for any tidbits that might be useful or interesting for my work or for you. Today, I was shocked to see a notice from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration issuing a letter of authorization for the taking of Steller Sea Cows incidental to rocket launches from Alaska. Obviously, this was some mistake. The SSC is extinct . . . or at least it is supposed to be. And, what might it have to do with rocket launches? Where, exactly are they taking these sea cows? It strikes me that Agents Fox and Mulder might surmise that the Steller Sea Cow is, in fact, not extinct and that the U.S. government is somehow using them in a plot involving aliens and space rockets. Hence, my excitement.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I misread the notice. Georg Wilhelm Steller apparently identified a number of species including the Steller Sea Lion, which is the actual subject of the Federal Register. It seems that rocket launches from the Kodiak Launch Complex pose a risk to the endangered, but very much known, sea lion. This notice simply grants an authorization for that to happen, as sad as that may be.

Now, if the Federal Register ever contains a notice regarding the Steller's Sea Ape, please let me know. Or Trunko.

In the event any readers of this blog now have concerns about my professional or legal judgment, just keep in mind that I did not say I think there is solid evidence pointing to the existence of any of these creature. I just think the pursuit is interesting in that it often bumps up against what I consider to be very well established scientific fact. I am all about the science. But as far as I can tell, there is nothing inherently inconsistent with the laws of nature for there to be, for example, a giant unidentified creature in Lake Champlain. It's just very unlikely.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's My Blogaversary

I have been at this blog for five years today. That outstrips the average blog life by a significant factor. I believe I read somewhere that the typical law-related blog (i.e., "blawg") has a life expectancy of three years, so I feel like I have accomplished something.

I recognize (and regret) that things have been slow here on the blog. That is true for a number of reasons that do not include any waning interest on my part. I have not been doing much off-topic posting, though. That means I post when customs-related things happen. And, I tend to focus on the bigger-picture items or the items that strike me a legally significant. That's why you don't find a lot of broker and logistics related information here. I assume you guys have worked out the details of how to transfer your ISF data, for example.

I am hopeful that the appointment of Commissioner Bersin will shake lose some policy changes and I am always watching the Court of International Trade and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for cases of interest. Watch my Twitter feed to see more frequent, toss off, comments.

So, what I am trying to say is, please stick with me. I hope to make it another five years or at least as long you think this is still interesting.

Thanks.