Genetically modified organisms. Toxic chemicals in consumer products. Pesticides on school lawns.
No, that's not a recipe for some mad-scientist geek's destroy-the-human-race formula. It's a listing of some of the politically nasty environmental issues that state lawmakers who get elected this November are likely to face in 2013.
We've already had a preview of what's to come with these topics, since all three have been debated before in Connecticut's General Assembly. And that's why a lot of legislative candidates will probably be shying away from talking about this stuff during the campaign: these are things that could be politically unhealthy.
Take the proposal to label food that has genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in it. The polls say it's a popular idea with consumers. But agro-chemical giants like Monsanto (the world leader in creating genetically modified crops) and the food industry hate the idea.
One of the legislature's strongest advocates of GMO labeling won't be around for what he predicts will be another major battle on the issue in 2013.
State Rep. Dick Roy of Milford is leaving the legislature after two decades, the last eight as co-chairman of the General Assembly's Environment Committee.
Roy's push for legislation to require GMO foods to be labeled never made it through the 2012 General Assembly. But the issue is still alive in the form of a Connecticut task force that's studying the topic, and a referendum question in California.
"Everybody across the U.S. who wants [GMO] labeling is praying that California passes the labeling measure that's on its November ballot," says Roy. He believes passage in California would provide mega-momentum for a Connecticut labeling bill.
The problem, he warns, is that Monsanto will be "spending millions to defeat" the California referendum.
Another dicey issue that's certain to bring out bad-ass corporate opposition is the revival of legislation to require the state to identify and regulate toxic or dangerous chemicals used in consumer products and packaging.
Connecticut has already passed restrictions on the use of BPA (bisphenol A) in baby bottles and plastic containers for infant food. Research into the effects of BPA leaking out from plastic containers and the linings of aluminum cans used for food has scared the hell out of consumers across the nation.
Various studies have linked BPA exposure to increased risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, not to mention accelerated puberty.
Anne Hulick, coordinator for the Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Connecticut, says her group remains "very concerned about BPA in food packaging."
"We'd at least like to have a labeling law" that would let consumers know if BPA was involved in food packaging, Hulick says. "We tried for that in the last [legislative] session, but we didn't get a lot of traction."
The coalition is also planning to push for broader reform legislation, modeled on what's been done in Maine, to regulate potentially hazardous chemicals in consumer products like toys and canned foods.
A bill to do just that cleared three different General Assembly committees this year and then got sandbagged when it reached the state Senate. Critics proposed 26 different amendments and threatened endless debate, which was enough to doom the bill as the lawmakers struggled to finish up their 2012 session.
Maine's law was approved in 2008 and is targeted at products for children. That state's officials have reportedly identified 1,400 chemicals that are potentially hazardous for kids, and listed 49 that are of "high concern." The Maine law also requires that those chemicals deemed most dangerous be phased out as soon as reasonable alternatives are available.
Hulick says there's a concerted effort to revive the legislation, which would require state agencies to compile lists of potentially hazardous chemicals in consumer products. State officials would also be charged with creating a system to force producers to phase out those chemicals where possible or at least label them so consumers know what's in that product.
"We do expect opposition from the chemical industry and the toy industry," says Hulick.
Big business interests that testified against the 2012 bill included the American Chemical Council (which insisted the legislation wasn't needed and wouldn't work); the American Cleaning Institute (called it "counter-productive"); the Toy Industry Association (claimed it would "create an unnecessary burden" on companies in this state); and the Grocery Manufacturers' Association (which said the bill "ignores the existence of the comprehensive processes that already exist at the federal level" for testing products and packaging).
Then there's the issue of how to save Connecticut's recently enacted ban on the use of pesticides on fields and lawns around elementary and middle schools.
"I'm fearful there'll be another effort made to repeal that ban," Roy says. He says the lawn care companies and even some school officials "want to get back to the easy 'put down the poison and go home' system rather than using organic, non-toxic methods."
"That's a big concern," Roger Reynolds, senior attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, says of the possibility that the pesticide prohibition will be emasculated. "When you get in a tough economy, some people want simple solutions," he warns, and one of those solutions is often "a roll-back of environmental protections."
Critics of the school pesticide ban that took effect in 2010 tried to repeal that law last year. School officials complained weeds and bugs were taking over their school grounds. Lawn care companies pointed out that the EPA supports the use of "integrated pest management" (read pesticides and herbicides) for school grounds. Municipal spokesmen argued they needed the "flexibility" to use pesticide on school grounds because it's less expensive and more effective.
Roy says the reason for not allowing pesticides on school lawns is pretty simple: "Those sixth graders would come out and just roll in this stuff after they've been kept pent up all day long."
Supporters of the ban point out that, prior to 1950, all school playing fields were kept in pretty good shape without – gasp – any pesticides at all.