As we continue to unmask the hijackers of chemical security, we would be remiss to leave out members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce which adopted on May 26th, 2011 the Republican-pushed and industry-supported extension of the flawed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Program (H.R. 908). Fueled by the oil and chemical industries three Congressmen led the charge:

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)(Chair, Committee on Energy and Commerce),
Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) (Chair, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy),
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) (Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy).

When Greenpeace examined the campaign contributions, these three representatives received from the oil, gas, and chemical industries, it became clear why they have hijacked chemical security legislation, despite the risks of a poison gas disaster faced by constituents in each of their districts. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics reveal that companies like Dow Chemical, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, BP, and Dupont are bankrolling their reelection efforts, companies that are also hijacking the kind of policy that would protect communities from chemical disasters.

The current chemical security program, CFATS, fails to cover thousands of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as 500 facilities located in “ports.” It also forbids the Department of Homeland Security from requiring facilities to implement any specific security measure including alternatives that would reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic release of poison gas. If extended by Congress, CFATS will continue to leave more than 100 million Americans in 41 states at risk of a chemical disaster.

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency have repeatedly urged Congress to give them the authority to require chemical plants to use safer alternatives. Greenpeace joined over 100 organizations in a letter to all members of congress asking them to oppose HR 908 and its twin HR 901, but these members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce chose to ignore these calls and instead joined the Industry hijackers.

Let’s take the three hijackers in turn:

Rep. Fred Upton

“Protecting our chemical plants from terrorist threats is a key national security priority,” said Representative Fred Upton, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, back in March of this year.  That sentiment rings empty coming from a man responsible for pushing through a bill that will extend the deeply flawed current chemical security law into 2018. Tens of thousands of Congressman Upton’s constituents are threatened by dangerous chemical facilities in his Michigan district, including the ILC LLC Kalamazoo Logistics Center which puts 1,789 people in harms way of an anhydrous ammonia spill, Pharmacia and Upjohn P&U-KAPI and EMA facility which puts 21,464 people at risk of the same, and Water Station #1 which puts 16,641 people in danger of a chlorine release.

When the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive chemical security bill in 2009 (HR 2868) Upton parroted industry that it would kill jobs and transfer security risks to other parts of the supply chain. Contrary to Upton’s claim, an independent study of HR 2868 predicted that the comprehensive bill would have a net positive effect upon the job market as well as producing an economic stimulus for the chemical and water treatment industries. Upton’s claim that “risk shifting” would occur is equally unfounded as the bill in question explicitly prohibited such a possibility.

Upton has a long tradition of coziness with big industry,  collaborating with their lobbyists, and hiring former lobbyists to his staff  and the staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee. From 2006 to 2010 the oil, gas, and chemical industries gave Upton $244,300 for his campaign and $53,750 for his leadership PAC. This industry cash helps Chairman Upton hold comprehensive chemical security legislation hostage.
Rep. John Shimkus

Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, ought to understand the danger of chemical facilities and the ease with which a normal workday can turn disastrous, even without the involvement of terrorists. His district is home to a Honeywell plant that refines uranium for nuclear fuel using dangerous Hydrofluoric acid. 

Since 2003,  there have been several accidental releases of toxic chemicals such as Uranium Hexafluoride  and hydrofluoric acid.  More recently, the lockout of the facility’s unionized workers may have contributed to additional leaks, as poorly trained workers were hired to keep the dangerous plant running. Honeywell is not the only plant endangering Shimkus’ constituents. There are other chemical plants in the southern Illinois and the St. Louis area with dangerous processes such as the bulk-stored chlorine gas at the Afton Chemicals Corporation, Solutia W.G. Krummrich Plant, Midland Resources Inc., and Vertex Chemical Corporation. Each of these put more than a million people at risk of a catastrophic release.

Rep. Shimkus has received over $ 204,350 from chemical, oil and gas interests between 2006 and 2010 for his campaign and $43,250 for his leadership PAC. He has also been a longtime friend of the chemical industry, addressing Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) at their Washington Fly-In Capitol Hill Reception in Washington, DC this April.  SOCMA, a chemical industry trade association and lobbying group, is one of the most adamant opponents of comprehensive legislation, sometimes making outlandish claims to support its position.  Shimkus is brazen with his industry ties. In fact before marking up a recent chemical security bill, Shimkus had breakfast with the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), one of the industry trade groups that has been lobbying Congress to block disaster prevention legislation.

To the delight of the chemical industry, Rep. Shimkus led his subcommittee to approve HR 908 so that it could be passed through the full committee. After that passage of the bill through committee, his industry pals, including the President of American Chemistry Council, former congressman Cal Dooley, publicly congratulated Shimkus.

Rep. Gene Green

Representative Gene Green (D-TX), the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy flipped from being a champion of comprehensive chemical security legislation, to a hijacker of chemical security. He could have pushed for comprehensive chemical security legislation such as the legislation he voted for in 2009 (HR 2868). Instead, Green listened to the campaign contributions from the chemical, oil and gas industries and threw his support behind the industry-supported extension of the flawed CFATS law until 2018.

Chemical, gas and oil industries spent $342,888 from 2006-2010 helping Rep. Green get elected, more than they spent on almost any other member of his Committee, and their investment is paying off. Green represents one of the most dangerous districts in the country lying within the danger zone of sixteen facilities that each put more than a million people at risk of a chemical disaster. Green is putting the risks of his constituents behind the financial gain of his funders.

There are feasible alternatives to these threats and in Texas, at least six facilities have made the change, reducing the risk they posed by switching to safer processes. But most of Texas’ other facilities have not, with 28 of the most dangerous facilities each putting a million or more people at risk, most located around the Houston area. And yet, Green is ignoring repeated pleas by concerned citizens and workers in those dangerous facilities, and the potential for a catastrophe in Houston.

Being lobbied by his former staff may have also made a difference. Among the chemical industry's legion of lobbyists are former Members of Congress, legislative directors, and chiefs of staff.  Most notably, Moses Mercado, of Olgivy has represented the American Chemistry Council (ACC), American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Hess and Monsanto. His lobbying for the ACC goes back to 2007, and he states clearly that he lobbies on chemical security legislation. Prior to his work with Ogilvy, Mercado was Green’s chief of staff for 4 years.

Though Green has repeatedly commented on the inadequacy of the original legislation and did attempt to shorten the extension of CFATS under H.R. 908, unfortunately, after the Republicans had voted this amendment down, Green flipped again and voted for seven more years of insecurity.

These three hijackers represent tens of thousands of citizens who are at risk every day of chemical disaster. Instead of listening to and heeding their constituents concerns they are using their positions of influence in the congress to carry water for the chemical industry. The security of America’s chemical plants from terrorist attacks and catastrophic accidents requires a robust program that actively mitigates the risk that chemical facilities pose to the people, not one that only factors the oil and chemical industries bottom line. Today Greenpeace delivered letters to all three asking them to stop hijacking chemical security and start protecting our communities.