Bhopal

Today is the 26th Anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster. Twenty-six years later, we are still storing tons of hazardous chemicals on-site in U.S. chemical facilities, including the toxic chemical released in Bhopal that killed thousands and has left many disabled, methyl isocyanate (MIC). Just 300 of these plants together put 110 million Americans at risk. Now, we are finding that the Homeland Security Committee may be even farther from safeguarding our communities…

In August Greenpeace began corresponding (attached) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); pointing out that their advisory committee on chemical plants is dominated by industry lobbying organizations. Greenpeace urged the DHS to adopt more balanced advisory committees run consistent with Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) rules.  On November 25, 2010 the Washington Post ran a story about what we found out.

The DHS first established these committees in 2006 as part of their Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC). Because CIPAC openly encourages advisory committee members to make policy recommendations, this partnership provides an exclusive forum for lobbyists from various industries such as the chemical industry to have frequent access to influence the DHS and other agencies on a wide range of policies including regulations, legislation and enforcement.  It is also done in virtual secrecy.  Even the names of individuals representing private sector lobbying groups are not available to the public.

For example, the Chemical Sector Committee has 21 industry representatives out of 29 committee members. Thirteen of them were specifically registered to lobby lobbied on chemical security legislation.  Together they spent $31 million on lobbying last year, which included efforts to weaken or oppose legislation (H.R. 2868) that passed the House of Representatives on November 6, 2009.

Conspicuously absent from CIPAC advisory committees, especially the Chemical Sector Committee, are directly impacted stakeholders. These include first responders, local community representatives, employee groups or unions, other potentially affected local and national businesses, academic experts, and other experts from public interest groups or their representatives.

The chemical sector committee also has no representation from businesses that have a different point of view regarding inherently high-risk toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemicals.  For example the railroads no longer wish to ship these cargo due to the catastrophic liability TIH substances pose in comparison to the small percentage (0.3 percent) of freight cargo they represent. Others include companies such as Clorox, which is phasing out the bulk use of chlorine gas in all of its U.S. plants.

The DHS has created 27 FACA advisory committees.  Eleven of these were established under the same discretionary authority that CIPAC was established.  The charter of one DHS FACA, the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), says, “In order for the Secretary to fully leverage broad-ranging experience and education, the HSAC must be professionally, technically, and culturally diverse. These members shall all be national leaders found within diverse and appropriate professions and communities from around the Nation."

The DHS Open Government Plan is based on President’s 2009 Memorandum calling on all departments to increase transparency and openness in government: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

If Congress were to enact comprehensive chemical security legislation (HR. 2868) as the House of Representatives did in 2009, the DHS wouldn't be so dependent on the chemical industry for its voluntary cooperation as they are today, thanks to the fatally flawed temporary law that was ghost written by industry in 2006. Take action now to ask congress to enact comprehensive chemical security legislation.

--Rick

Additional Resources:

GP November 4th Response to DHS

DHS November 2nd Response to GP

GP August 24th Letter to DHS

GP Attachment to August 24th Letter to DHS