Month: May 2022

Is a Semiconductor Shortage Coming?

In January news broke that the computer chip shortages cost the U.S. economy $240 billion in 2021. The shortage heavily affected the auto industry, costing manufacturers $210 billion in revenue as cars sat in lots waiting for chips to be installed. Beyond vehicles, semiconductors are a vital piece of the economy, being used in everything from computers, smartphones, consumer electronics, appliances and medical equipment.

Luckily for consumers, in response to the economic damage caused by shortages Intel announced that it will build a $20 billion chip factory in Ohio to help secure supply chains and prevent further disruptions.

Unfortunately though, those efforts may be limited if Congress proceeds with heavy-handed bans for perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) found in the PFAS Action Act. PFAS, a grouping of 4,000-plus manmade chemicals, are a vital part of the semiconductor production process, primarily because of their chemical resistance and surface tension-lowering properties.

The PFAS Action Act could seriously jeopardize chip manufacturing, and ultimately make the chip shortage much worse before it gets better. These chemicals are vital for the production of semiconductors, predominantly the use of coolant, and if Congress continues down the path of wanting to ban PFAS then  consumers will be in a world of trouble.

And we know that this is a predictable outcome of heavy-handed PFAS policy because this is exactly what we are seeing in Europe, where officials in Belgium paused production at a chemical plant in response to the tightening of environmental regulations. Reporting done by Business Korea highlighted that semiconductor producers have only 30 to 90 days of coolant inventory left before they will encounter serious production problems.

If Congress continues down the path it is on, it is naive to think that disruptions like this aren’t headed for the American market, with U.S. consumers bearing the brunt of the chaos.

Now, this isn’t to say that PFAS producers should be able to operate without any regard for the environment and PFAS exposure. In fact, the opposite is true.

Regulating PFAS has to be done from the perspective of clean drinking water, as opposed to declaring all PFAS chemicals hazardous. Ensuring proper production standards to avoid dumping or leakage helps solve the problem of contaminated water, while avoiding the consequences of banning PFAS altogether.

This is especially important in the context of everyday consumer products that rely on these chemicals in the manufacturing process. If production standards for PFAS are upheld, and enforced, we can tackle the clean drinking water issue while allowing for PFAS to be used where it presents little to no risk to consumers, like the production of semiconductors.

This is the balancing act that Congress has to consider when deciding what is next regarding PFAS. And, while trying to thread the needle on what proper regulation is, it needs to evaluate the emerging science on PFAS, evaluating not just hazard but more important the exposure levels that make PFAS risky for Americans and from where those exposures come.

In December 2021, the Australian National University published a study on PFAS. The findings provide some helpful insights into what anti-PFAS efforts should focus. To assess the risks associated with PFAS, three PFAS-contaminated Australian communities were chosen. One of the key findings was that exposure to PFAS in affected communities almost entirely came from water and firefighting foam. Those who drink contaminated water, or eat locally grown food that is contaminated, are at the highest risk of PFAS-associated health problems. This suggests that poor production processes carry most of the risk, while the risks associated with consumer items and other PFAS applications are limited.

A clean drinking water approach to PFAS is entirely appropriate, but getting there cannot, and should not, result in outright production bans. If Congress can narrow its sights on proper production processes, American consumers can avoid water contamination, without the chaos of an exacerbated semiconductor shortage.

Originally published here

Europe’s Legislative Copy and Paste on Ag Reform a Warning for US

War is never a good time for an “I told you so!” It amounts to making a point on policy on the backs of the suffering of many.

That said, Russia’s war against Ukraine has laid the cards on the table not just on Europe’s energy dependence, but its entire sustainability strategy.

Activists in Ukraine have pointed out the degree to which Europe’s dependence on Russia’s oil and gas constitutes a foreign policy disaster; notably why Germany’s policy reversal has been so drastic, if not unprecedented.

While everyone talks about natural gas and the prices at the pump — now as high as $10 per gallon in some European cities, agriculture has been largely unmentioned, if not neglected.

Europe is very dependent on food and food components imports from both Russia and Ukraine. For example, Ukraine makes up 30% of global trade in wheat and barley; 17% with respect to corn. Ukraine is also the EU’s main trading partner for non-GMO soybeans (used as animal feed) as well as 41% of rapeseed, and 26% of honey.

Prices for wheat and corn are already skyrocketing in the war’s wake, especially now that Ukraine has banned the export of food products.

Farmers in Ukraine face a dire situation. Harvest season is going to be non-existent for many, as their crop fields are either war zones or they have left those fields to fight in the war. 

The EU and the United States have sanctioned dozens of products from Russia, not least of which is fertilizer. For Europe’s agriculture market, this is especially challenging.

All of this puts Europe’s agricultural reform into question and serves as a cautionary tale for American lawmakers who have sought to implement similar “sustainability” on prior occasions.

The EU’s “farm to fork” strategy has been in the works for some years; it represents the overall sustainability ambitions of the bloc: more organic production, less farmland, considerable cuts in pesticide use.

The legislative package is a stepping stone for Europe’s environmentalist movement, even though it still criticizes European lawmakers for not going further.

Now that Europe faces the effects of the war in Ukraine, the biggest parliamentary group in the European Parliament, the center-right EPP (European People’s Party Group) calls for the strategy to be called off. “[The strategy’s] objectives must be reviewed, because under no circumstances can Europe afford to produce less,” added French president Emmanuel Macron recently.

Macron additonally warns of a “deep food crisis” in the upcoming months.

The nuclear phase-out of Germany has not only caused the highest electricity prices in the developed world and increased the country’s carbon footprint, it also increased dependence on gas imports — from Russia.

It appears that Brussels will now attempt to avoid a similar mistake with respect to agriculture.

Pausing “farm to fork” is likely to be only the beginning of the ag shift — as Europe runs short on non-GMO animal feed, the European Commission might speed up the process of allowing genetic engineering in Europe.

Right now, very few GMOs are allowed on the continent, due to Brussels’ strict environmental regulations; even despite the advice coming from the scientific community.

The commission had already hinted at a shift that would bring Europe’s legislation in line with the United States or Canada.

In Congress, food regulation in Europe has long been seen, by some, as an example to follow. Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), a bill introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., , and Cory Booker, D-N.J., would completely retool how America approves and licenses the use of pesticides while importing a “precautionary” approach that has so far stunted innovative agriculture in Europe.

In fact, this piece of legislation would copy and paste U.S. ag rules with those existing in Europe. A cardinal mistake, as the current crisis in Europe shows.

Originally published here

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