Industry Lobbyists Stall Critical Chemical Legislation
by Rick Hind
June 15, 2009
As Congress finally begins to move chemical security legislation in the House Homeland Security and Energy & Commerce Committees, Greenpeace is urging everyone to weigh in and remind Congress what they have to do before October 4th when the fatally flawed temporary law expires. A blue-green coalition of more than 50 organizations including the Steelworkers, UAW, Teamsters, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, U.S. Public Interest Group are also working hard.
For almost eight years this legislation has been held up by a coalition of chemical industry lobbyists representing giants like Dow and DuPont, the Bush administration and their allies in Congress. In 2008 the industry deployed some 200 lobbyists spending millions to successfully stall this legislation for the seventh year in a row. In the same seven years, hundreds of chemical plants have converted to safer chemicals, eliminating risks to millions of Americans. Unfortunately at the current rate it could take 70 years to eliminate these hazards at the nation’s highest risk plants.
This year the chemical lobby is at it again. As you can see by their March 2nd letter to Congress, they are obsessed with killing legislation that could require any chemical plant to use safer chemicals that will eliminate the risk of a Bhopal magnitude disaster. Instead they are pressuring Congress to make the temporary law permanent. They ghost wrote that law in 2006 in a successful effort to derail stronger legislation. That “law” actually PROHIBITS the government from requiring the use of safer chemicals and EXEMPTS thousands of chemical facilities completely, including all water treatment plants.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the largest chemical companies are pretending to have a kinder, gentler side in contrast to the more publicly dogmatic wing that signed the March 2nd letter. They apparently think Congress is as naive as Little Red Riding Hood because this “kinder” wolf is the primary lobbying arm of Dow and DuPont, aka the American Chemistry Council (ACC). By not signing the March 2nd letter the ACC companies hope Congress will forget that they spear headed the industry lobbying over the last eight years that either killed, delayed or weakened chemical security legislation. As you can see by the flow chart, ACC leaders Dow and DuPont are also prominent members of many of the hard-line lobbying groups that signed the March 2nd letter.
Now not all the companies in these lobbying groups necessarily agree with the March 2nd letter. The railroads are also members of some of these groups but in February 2008, the Association of American Railroads released a statement saying: "It’s time for the big chemical companies to do their part to help protect America. They should stop manufacturing dangerous chemicals when safer substitutes are available. And if they won’t do it, Congress should do it for them."
The railroads are the largest shippers of the poison gases that make them and U.S. chemical plants among the most vulnerable terrorist targets in the U.S. Shipping these gases represents less than 0.3 percent of their business but it’s 80 percent of their liability.
Recognizing that major companies such as Dow and DuPont also have enormous liability exposure, we sent their CEOs extensively documented letters citing the millions of people that Dow and DuPont plants put at risk and urged them to join other companies in switching to safer available chemicals. We also asked them to follow the railroad’s example and break with the industry groups lobbying AGAINST legislation that could ensure that high risk plants convert to safer chemicals. I wish we could say we’ve reached a break through with them but I can say we’ve definitely gotten their attention at the highest levels.
Remember, help is on the way. It’s in your own emails, calls and letters to Congress. The two House Committees taking up this legislation understand the stakes but they need to hear from you today if they’re going to keep the proverbial wolf away from the door. If we’re successful this summer the next stop will be the House floor, hopefully no later than September. In the meantime the U.S. Senate will have to get serious because the chemical lobby doesn’t take the summer off.