Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reader Comment – 11-23-09 – SOCMA Reply

It did not take long for William Almond, a Vice-President for SOCMA, to reply to yesterday’s blog about the efficacy of their recent efforts to block the passage of HR 2868. Since legislative liaison is one of his responsibilities with SOCMA, his comments are well worth reading. Bill’s comments are too lengthy to be totally reproduced here, but they are available at the end of yesterdays post and should be read by anyone interested in the politics of chemical security or HR 2868 in particular. Political Efficacy Bill did write, in the beginning of his response, that:
“The fact that any Democrats voted against HR 2868 was a welcomed development. You are the only one that I know of who seemed to think that it wasn't particularly surprisingly. If SOCMA had members in all 21 Democratic districts, perhaps our success rate would have been higher. But we are quite pleased with our ability to utilize our grassroots to help swing votes in districts where we do have members [emphasis added]. We don't have members in all 21 districts that voted against HR 2868, so, of course, we can't make a case that we helped impact the vote for the other districts.”
No, I wasn’t surprised that there were Democrats that voted against the bill. The chemical industry is large (very large when you define chemical facilities the way that CFATS does) and employees large numbers of people around the country. The chemical industry has done a good job of making their opposition to HR 2868 well known, especially its potential impact on jobs. Right now jobs are a pretty big issue. The Democratic Party has seldom been able to muster total control of their legislators on any measures other than those at the very core beliefs of their members. Chemical Facility Security has never been that high a priority for the House Leadership. With more than enough votes to pass the bill, there was no major effort to maintain a party line vote on this measure outside of the two committees drafting the legislation. I will admit that I did not take into account the number districts that were involved in the grassroots lobbying effort when I calculated the efficacy of the SOCMA effort; that number was not available in the article that I was looking at and was not mentioned in Bill’s response. That number would certainly give a better analysis of the efficacy of that effort. If 20 representatives had been targeted and 2 changed their votes, that would have given some heart to the other participants in the program. But, then again, that wasn’t what the article was bragging about; it bragged about the changing of two votes. As I was pointing out, changing two votes out of more than two hundred was not particularly impressive, especially since a total of 40 Democratic votes were needed to change the outcome. Bill does make the point that the “fact that Democrats voted against HR 2868 gives us momentum going into the Senate”. I’m not sure that I agree with that political calculus, particularly in regards to grassroot efforts like the one mentioned in the referenced article. Grassroot efforts by smaller organizations, businesses or political interest groups, do not have as much sway in Senate campaigns as they do in House races; too many votes and too much money to run a campaign. That, of course, changes in very close races, especially if the targeted member is influential. If SOCMA has a couple of member facilities in Nevada, for instance, their talking to Sen. Reid may be more effective than pressuring a Senator that road into office on President Obama’s coat tails and won’t be up for re-election for five more years. Political Strategy One of the things that has concerned me about SOCMA’s campaign against HR 2868 (and the Greenpeace campaign in favor of the bill) is that, publicly at least it has been an all or nothing effort. SOCMA has been very vocal in support of a straight re-authorization of §550. They have been equally adamant in their opposition to HR 2868 with special attention against IST and Citizen Suits. While I understand their position, and in fact agree with large portions of it, I am also aware that politics is the art of the achievable. In the current world, there is no way that Congress is going to re-authorize CFATS as it stands today. There are just too many dangerous holes in the coverage of that program and almost no protections of legitimate worker’s rights. What industry needs to do is look at the provisions of HR 2868 that offend them, and there were certainly some doozies included in the original draft, and find a way to make them practical. One example is the changes made to the citizen suit provisions. This is one of the areas where ACC has taken some credit (which has been acknowledged publicly in committee and on the floor of the House) for helping to get rid of some potentially disastrous language. Bill takes me to task for not acknowledging SOCMA’s contribution to this change; saying “It goes without saying that we have achieved much more than you have selectively pointed out in your blog that, because it hasn't been publicly reported, you are unaware of.” Everyone who has followed this bill in the news knows that SOCMA has been vocally opposed to this language, but I have seen nothing in the press that SOCMA has been working with the committees to achieve modification of the language. If SOCMA has been working behind the scenes to get these changes made, bully for them. But, I can only report on what I see in the press and on the net. I am not an investigative reporter with personal contacts on the Hill. If SOCMA wants public credit for their work behind the scenes, they need to let the press (including bloggers like myself) know about that work (which of course, Bill has just done). LATE NOTE: I just got additional confirmation of that work by a long term reader who was involved in the process. There may be more on that in a later blog. Highlighting SOCMA To Bill’s credit, he doesn’t make much of my attention to SOCMA over other industry organizations. I do pay more attention to what SOCMA does than any number of the other pro-industry groups. The reason for that is that SOCMA represents that portion of the chemical industry where I spent my chemistry career, the smaller specialty chemical manufacturers. I understand their concerns, limitations, and motivations on a personal level that I cannot feel for the major refiners or the large commodity chemical manufacturers. I have friends and neighbors that still work in that industry. I want the industry to survive and thrive. So I suppose that Bill and I will be having more of these discussions in the future. BTW: On a personal note, Bill, can you get Joe to change the link to my blog on his web site; I haven’t been on AOL for over a year now. I left numerous messages on the site, but have gotten no response. He was one of the first in the industry to post a link to this blog on his site and that means a bunch to me.


Anonymous said...

As someone directly involved in the HR 2868 process, I can say unequivocally that ACC was substantively and extensively involved in the Energy and Commerce Committee negotiations. They served their member companies well by engaging early and thoughtfully, and significant changes were made both to the citizen suits, IST, and employee participation provisions as a result. SOCMA was not nearly as involved, and did not have nearly the impact on the final product as a result. Your initial observation was correct.

PJCoyle said...

My reply can be found at Reader Comment – 11-24-09 SOCMA vs ACC: http://chemical-facility-security-news.blogspot.com/2009/11/reader-comment-11-24-09-socma-vs-acc.html

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