Over 400 shareholders are expected today at Dow Chemical’s annual general meeting, and security is high, according to Andrew Dodson at MLive.com. They have guards everywhere and attendees, including the press, are not being allowed to tote their electronic devices, even cell phones. Amazing that Dow has such a focus on security when they are leaving many of their high-risk chemical facilities as sitting ducks for an opportunistic terrorist.
This week Greenpeace sent a letter to the Dow Chemical Company, as we did with Dupont on Earth Day, to inform CEO Andrew Liveris of their potential catastrophic liability in the event of a chemical disaster at one of their facilities. But we didn’t stop there; we also sent a copy to the company’s biggest shareholder, Mr. Warren Buffett whose investment in the company is helping to keep the company afloat.
Dow is well aware of the risk that the bulk storage of toxic chemicals such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia pose to the public health. In its annual filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dow writes that “Terrorist attacks and natural disasters have increased concerns about the security and safety of chemical production and distribution. These concerns could have a negative impact on the Company’s results of operation.” While, this is an admission of risk, it’s also a gross understatement. In fact, in our analysis of Dow’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) filings we’ve discovered that more than 4.5 million people live within the vulnerability zones of the company’s chemical facilities. We feel that shareholders have a right to know about this potential liability without Dow’s sugarcoating.
To demonstrate to Dow the kind of risk reporting that we would like to see, we use the example set by the railroad companies. The railroads have been unusually direct about the danger that poison gases pose to the public. For instance, Burlington-Southern, a fully owned subsidiary of Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. writes in its yearly SEC filing that:
“the Company frequently transports chemicals and other hazardous materials….An accidental release of these commodities could result in a significant loss of life and extensive property damage as well as environmental remediation obligations. The associated costs could have an adverse effect on the Company’s operating results, financial condition or liquidity as the Company is not insured above a certain threshold….certain [insurance] coverage may not be available to the Company in the future if there is a catastrophic event related to rail transportation of these commodities.”
The largest railroads all express similar concerns about the potential liability involved in transporting hazardous chemicals.
Aside from giving a more accurate picture of its potential liability, Dow also needs to stop its lobbying efforts against legislation that would require the most dangerous chemical facilities to transition to safer chemical processes wherever feasible. With recorded lobbying expenditures of over $21 million in the years 2009 and 2010, the Dow lobby shop is a well-funded machine running operations on Capitol Hill. Their activity is part of the reason why politicians are looking to punt commonsense legislation down the road 7 years, instead of reducing risks 10 years after 9/11.
The voices politicians should be listening to are yours. Ask your representative to vote against bills in the House (HR 908, HR 901, HR 916) and Senate (s 473) that don’t require facilities to switch to safer available alternatives.