A Republican led Congressional committee adopted legislation today pushed by the chemical and oil refining industries that would extend a flawed temporary chemical security law until 2017. The legislation, approved by voice vote in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, leaves more than 100 million Americans at risk of chemical disasters in 41 states.
Right before pushing through this bill catering to the chemical and oil industry's agenda, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) had his breakfast catered by the National Association of Chemical Distributors, one of the industry trade groups that has been lobbying Congress to block chemical disaster prevention legislation. It's another sad example of how business is often done here in Washington DC - industry lobbyists get plenty of access and quick action, while constituents are ignored. Of course it's not just industry sponsored lobby breakfasts - campaign contributions go a long way too, and Shimkus has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the chemical industry and hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil industry, according to federal election records maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.
And in this case, many of Shimkus' constituents have a lot at stake - they're among the many put at risk in southern Illinois and the St. Louis area by several dangerous chemical plants. The bulk storage of deadly chlorine gas at the Afton Chemical Corporation, Solutia W. G. Krummrich Plant, Midland Resources Inc., and Vertex Chemical Corporation each put more than a million people at risk of a chemical disaster, even though these facilities could convert to safer processes. [For more info see Chemical Security 101, Center for American Progress report, Appendix A] Another dangerous facility in Shimkus' district is the Honeywell plant in Metropolis, Illinois, where toxic hydrofluoric acid leaked for hours last December, showing how plant management has put the community at greater risk when it locked out trained steelworkers and replaced them with inexperienced workers.
Fortunately, not everyone in Congress puts chemical and oil industry profits ahead of the safety of their own constituents. Strong legislation - like the bills introduced by Senator Lautenberg last month and supported by a blue-green coalition of over 100 organizations representing millions of American workers and concerned citizens - would remove the threat of a chemical disaster by making sure that facilities use safer processes when feasible. Instead of catering to lobbyists for the chemical and oil industries, it would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the EPA the disaster prevention authority they have requested.
Tell your Senator to support Senator Lautenberg's chemical disaster prevention legislation.