California governor Jerry Brown is attempting to fix the state’s notorious Proposition 65 law because it “has been abused by some unscrupulous lawyers driven by profit rather than public health,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act was enacted in 1986 to try to protect Californians from harmful chemicals by requiring the governor to publish each year a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The visible result is the ubiquitous “Prop 65” warning label displayed at any business where chemicals on that list are sold. Whether or not this has actually protected any state resident from actual harm has not been proven.
Because the law allows almost any attorney or citizen to file suits when the law isn’t being followed, a cottage industry has developed to threaten lawsuits against violators. If the violator agrees to settle the matter, these groups can retain a portion of the settlement funds. In an example of particular concern to avgas users, a group called the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed notices of violation against California FBOs and fuel distributors and producers in May 2011. The FBOs and fuel companies formed a coalition to fight against the CEH action and filed a lawsuit against CEH and the attorney general of the state of California. That dispute has yet to be resolved.
According to the governor’s statement, “The administration, through the California Environmental Protection Agency, will work closely with the legislature and stakeholders to revamp Proposition 65 by ending frivolous ‘shake-down’ lawsuits, improving how the public is warned about dangerous chemicals and strengthening the scientific basis for warning levels.”
“Citizen enforcers” have filed nearly 2,000 complaints since 2008. In another example cited by the governor, the Consumer Defense Group Action filed 45 notices of violation against banks for not controlling smokers near bank entrances and ATMs and not warning the public about the resulting second-hand smoke.
“Proposition 65 is a good law that’s helped many people, but it’s being abused by unscrupulous lawyers,” said Brown. “This is an effort to improve the law so it can do what it was intended to do: protect Californians from harmful chemicals.”