News & Events / United States Ratifies Convention Restricting Use, Emissions, and Handling of Mercury
United States Ratifies Convention Restricting Use, Emissions, and Handling of Mercury
Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., November 11, 2013
Last week, the United States became the first country to deposit its instrument of acceptance (equivalent to a ratification) to the Minamata Convention on Mercury.i The Convention restricts the use, emissions, and handling of mercury across a variety of industries, including electronics, energy, mining, and waste.ii
The Obama Administration has evidently taken the position that the Convention does not require new implementing legislation in the United States at this time. The Administration also took the highly unusual step of ratifying the Convention without first seeking advice and consent of the Senate, possibly reflecting some frustration with the decades-long challenges Presidents of both parties have encountered in obtaining Senate approval of treaties generally and international environmental agreements in particular.
Key provisions of the Convention include:
A total of 93 countries have signed the Convention since it was opened for signature in Kumamoto, Japan last month. The Convention will enter into force upon ratification or accession by 50 states. The text of the Convention had been in development under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program (“UNEP”) since February 2009.
The Convention establishes a new global framework for restricting the use of mercury in products. Specifically, the agreement contains a list of mercury-added products for which state Parties must prohibit the manufacture, import or export by 2020. Parties may register for exemptions from the phase-out date of up to five years, with an extension of up to five more years available upon approval of the Conference of the Parties (“COP”). The convention requires the COP to review the list of banned mercury-added products no later than five years after entry into force. When considering amendments or additions to the banned product list, the COP must take into account any proposals submitted by the Parties, relevant information submitted by the Parties, and the availability of mercury-free alternatives.
Mercury-added products to be banned by 2020 include:
The Convention’s provisions restricting mercury in products represent an important evolution in the development of global environmental accords that could serve as a precedent for further product restrictions at the global level.
Other Restrictions on Mercury
The Convention contains other provisions restricting uses of mercury, as well as restrictions on mercury mining, transport, and emissions. For example, the Convention requires state Parties to take action that will:
The Convention also contains a mechanism whereby guidelines for the handling, transport, and disposal of mercury-containing waste may be established. The guidelines would apply to waste substances or objects consisting of, containing or contaminated with mercury or mercury compounds at a threshold level to be established by the COP in collaboration with the relevant bodies of the Basel Convention, and would be drafted taking into account Parties’ existing waste management regulations and programs. The extent to which used electronics destined for reuse, refurbishment or recycling constitute waste is an active topic of discussion under the Basel Convention and the outcome will be important in light of potential new obligations in relation to the management of mercury-containing wastes.
For more information about the Convention or Beveridge & Diamond’s international supply chain practice, contact Paul Hagen at (202) 789-6022 or Russ LaMotte at (202) 789-6080.
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i. United Nations Environment Programme Press Release: Global Treaty on Mercury Pollution Gets Boost from United States. http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentID=2755&ArticleID=9691&l=en