June 7, 2018: Kevin Moran, executive vice president of Battery Council International, spoke to BESB on his thoughts about the implications of possible changes to Californian state law in labelling lead batteries as a ‘Priority Product’ requiring potentially restrictive and prohibitive regulation.
This is the text of the announcement:
California is recognized as a leader in setting energy policies to address climate change challenges and reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuels.
So is there a perfect choice to replace fossil fuels?
Not yet. There are limitations and risks with all new technologies.
Wind power threatens birds and displaces wildlife; solar panels and batteries contain hazardous chemicals; and hydropower impacts fragile ecosystems around rivers and streams.
But each of these alternative sources of energy is in the midst of an innovation revolution, on a path towards building more energy capacity, creating new functionalities and developing sustainable technologies.
The question for California is whether alternative energy technologies will be given the chance to continue to evolve and contribute to the transition to a clean energy economy.
Advanced lead batteries are one example of a technology that can be part of the long-term solution if given the chance to continue evolving as a safe and clean power source for California.
That evolution will be stymied if the Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) lists lead batteries as a Priority Product under the Safer Consumer Products Program, a part of the state’s green chemistry initiative.
The DTSC program is designed principally to reduce consumer exposure to harmful chemicals in common products. DTSC asks manufacturers if it is necessary to use potentially harmful materials in the manufacture of the product.
In this case, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Even the greenest energy sources depend upon materials that the state deems hazardous when not properly handled — lead, cobalt, cadmium, lithium, nickel, silicon, and the like — there is no zero-risk alternative.
That is why the use of any technology should be based on the adequacy of the regulatory systems in place to protect the public and the environment.
Inherent in the green chemistry program is the notion that Priority Products should be those that the public use on a regular basis — jewelry, cosmetics, cleaning products, toys and other household items – the things people handle every day.
By any practical interpretation, lead batteries are not a typical consumer product — the average consumer never comes into contact with a lead battery. Even the increasingly rare do-it-yourselfer is protected from exposure to lead and other battery components because they are sealed within the battery case.
Another key aspect of the law is the need to properly manage chemicals of concern in consumer products at end-of-life.
Here lead batteries have a clear advantage over every other battery chemistry.
Consumers understand the lead battery recycling system and are motivated by a deposit-refund incentive, participating at a rate of nearly 100%. Every component part of a lead battery is recyclable, and more than 80% of new lead batteries are manufactured from recycled materials because of the closed loop nature of the industries’ infrastructure.
No other battery chemistry even comes close to this level of sustainability.
Public health concerns about lead batteries relate primarily to emissions and residual contamination from former lead battery recycling operations.
The legacy sites in California date back to a time when many industrial operations were not well controlled. For the battery industry, these are historical problems, not continuing problems.
Lead battery manufacturing and recycling facilities in California are subject to the most stringent emissions standards in the world and California created a new fund in 2016 (AB 2153, C. Garcia) to cover the cost of cleaning up sites with legacy contamination related to historical battery recycling operations.
Today, every aspect of the lead battery life cycle is subject to mature, stringent regulatory requirements designed to minimize potential risks to human health and the environment.
So what would be the result of listing lead batteries as a Priority Product? The state would direct its limited regulatory resources to a product that does not pose a significant risk to the public or to the environment. DTSC stated in its 2018-2020 Priority Products Work Plan (May 1, 2018) that it will “only consider a Priority Product listing if it would meaningfully enhance the protection of public health or the environment.”
Lead batteries clearly do not meet this test.
The transition to carbon-free energy has to be rooted in products that work for the public.
California has successful programs that should allow lead batteries to play an important role in the state’s energy portfolio, both now and in the future. With proper regulation and the opportunity for scientific innovation, lead batteries and other technologies will address the climate challenge.
Kevin Moran previously served as the DC Office Director for the Western Governors’ Association where he worked on and advocated for the Governors’ Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, which set a goal of adding 30,000MW of clean energy in the West by 2015.