Water utility lobby flip flops on disaster prevention


February 11, 2011

Flip Flops

A hearing held today by a House subcommittee on Homeland Security focused on ways to make chemical facilities, including water treatment plants safer from terrorist attack.

Of course, the best way to protect communities that are vulnerable to a terrorist attack or accidental release of poison gases would be for those facilities to use inherently safer technologies that don’t carry the risk of a Bhopal disaster. And many facilities have converted, as documented in a Center for American Progress report, including the Blue Plains water treatment plant here in Washington DC, which converted a few months after the September 11th attacks.

So while people in our nation’s Capitol are no longer exposed to the catastrophic risks of a poison gas accident or terrorist attack, it is outrageous that even today, nearly ten years after September 11th, 72 similar water treatment plants in other major cities all around the United States each put 100,000 or more people at risk.

While the water utility industry had previously been supportive of legislation that would make sure those facilities use safer technologies if feasible, the manager of DC Water’s testimony to the subcommittee represented the water utility lobby’s ‘flip-flop’ on inherently safer technologies. To protest this reversal, Greenpeace activists held up flip flops during his testimony.

Greenpeace legislative director, Rick Hind said, “The water utility lobby’s flip-flop on disaster prevention rules for high risk water treatment plants is indefensible and reckless in a time of heightened security alerts. The day after another 9/11 attack or Bhopal disaster no one will doubt that we should have required high risk plants to use safer alternatives wherever feasible.

Nearly ten years after the 9/11 attacks at least 72 water treatment plants each put 100,000 or more people at risk of a chemical disaster.  Meanwhile more than 500 plants have switched from poison gases, such as chlorine, to safer more secure processes, including Washington, DC.”

Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lungren (R-CA), who has also flip-flopped on this legislation, interrupted the hearing to demand that the flip-flops be put away or those holding them would be ejected. Police eventually arrived and told the Greenpeace activists, “If you pull them out again you WILL be arrested.” Apparently a little flip-flopping in Congress can get you in a lot of trouble these days.


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