Friday, May 2, 2008

Chemical Security Legislation Influenced by Lobbyists

There is an interesting article/interview on HSToday.US. The article looks at the status of current chemical facility security legislation (HR 5577) and interviews Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace Toxics campaign. Greenpeace recently completed a review of lobbyist records and came to the conclusion that chemical company money was being used to influence the progress of that legislation.

Industry Lobbying

That chemical companies would be interested in trying to influence legislation that would have a major impact on their operations and profit margins should come as a surprise to no one. Any security requirements imposed by the Federal Government will have a direct impact on the bottom line of each company regulated. Security costs money and has little or no positive impact on income or profits.

The Greenpeace report has identified $12.5 Million in registered expenditures by a wide variety of chemical companies and related organizations directed at ‘Chemical Security Lobbying’ (page 33 of report). This represents, by the Greenpeace estimates, less than 10% of the lobbying expenditures of the companies and organizations involved. Their report implies that all of this spending is directed at impeding the progress of chemical facility security legislation.

Greenpeace acknowledges that there are organizations and companies not identified in their lobbying calculations that are supporting the implementation of a comprehensive chemical facility security bill (H.R. 5577). They do not include in their report how much money these lobbyists are spending in support of the passage of H.R. 5577.

I expect that industry efforts to reduce the monetary effects of H.R. 5577 are probably more extensive than the efforts of companies and organizations to support stricter requirements. But, any report that bemoans the effects of lobbying on one side of an issue is suspect if it does not provide similar data about the efforts on the other side of the issue. It is only when we compare the relative efforts of the two sides that we can tell if one side or the other has an unfair advantage.

Progress of Legislation

Rick Hind made an important point in the interview. In discussing the progress of the current legislation he said: "We’re concerned that if major comprehensive legislation isn’t passed this year that the temporary law will expire. Clearly once you get past the 2008 elections whoever runs Congress next year it will take the new Congress several months to reorganize itself."

Mr. Hind misses another important reason for passing H.R. 5577 during this session; the time it takes to write implementing regulations. While much of the current CFATS regulations would remain in place under this legislation, some sections will require extensive revisions. Sections on inherently safer technology (see: "Inherently Safer Technology Implementation under HR 5577") and DHS Contractors (see: "Third Party Entities under HR 5577") will have to be written from scratch. The rule making process is almost as complicated as the legislative process.

If we are to have continuity of coverage when the Section 550 authority expires in October 2009 Congress must pass legislation this session. It is too late in the game to start a completely new chemical security program so either H.R. 5577 must be passed or there must be an extension of the section 550 authority for CFATS. An extension of the Section 550 authority will postpone any decisions on a permanent federal chemical security program until it can be taken up by the 111th Congress.

Leaving to the 111th Congress the responsibility of writing a chemical security program from scratch is probably not in the best interest of the chemical industry. That legislature may have a veto proof majority in the House and a large enough majority in the Senate to break a filibuster. That Democratically controlled Congress would be more likely to try to include wider authority for state and local government regulations and stricter measures requiring implementation of Inherently Safer Technology (IST). It may also require mandatory security procedures. None of these would be much appreciated by the chemical industry.

I would like to think that the lobbyists for the chemical industry had already made that clear to their sponsors. After all, they should be advising their clients as well as lobbying on their behalf. In that case they should be working to fine tune the current bill, not working to delay or stop its passage as claimed by Greenpeace.

If the current bill has any chance of passing this session it must clear the House Energy and Commerce Committee by the current deadline of May 31st (see: "HR5577 Update 04-14-08"). This will be difficult since that committee has yet to hold the first hearing or even schedule a markup session. Something must be done to get this committee moving. In this I agree with Greenpeace.


Anonymous said...


However, as we point out in the case of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) which has come out in favor of requiring the use of safer more secure chemicals and processes, massive trade associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $40 million in 2007, may not speak for all of their member companies such as AAR members.  How many more business interests that stand to benefit from lower risk chemical plants we cannot say but we did point out that the ACC companies only represent 2,000 chemical plants out of about 14,000 that EPA regulates. Clearly the other 89% has a great deal to gain from benefits of using safer technologies, including little or no regulation, lower insurance and liability costs, more sustainable long-term viability, better relations with labor and neighboring communities, just to name a few.

Finally, one would assume that if the industry lobbyists believed they had to get legislation done quickly, and so did makers of safer chemicals and technologies, employees, and other affected stakeholders, that comprehensive legislation would already be complete. It seems to me that they want to run the clock out and renew CFATS.

Also, you correctly pointed out how long it takes to write and revise legislation, which Rick Hind either forgot to mention or wasn’t quoted on, but, as we all know, that is a hell of a task. We need Congress to move now on permanent legislation that eliminates these risks wherever there are safer, cost effective alternatives.

Anonymous said...

As part of the research team responsible for compiling the information in the lobbying report, I'm very pleased you picked this story up.

We tried to keep the report at a reasonable length, and, as a result, were unable to incorporate all the information we came across, so I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to some of your points (which, by the way, I think are very good points).

First of all, of course the chemical industry has an interest in chem-security legislation. However, if you were only to read comments from lobbyists like Jack Gerard (ACC), you could easily be confused about the motives of the chemical industry.  Chemical security legislation is inevitable because the vulnerability of chemical plants is undeniable, but the depth of that legislation is negotiable, and chemical companies are spending millions each year to persuade Congress to work in the interest of a handful of major corporations who make and sell inherently dangerous chemicals for which there are safer substitutes.  Fortunately more than 200 plants have converted since 9/11, but at this rate it will take more than 70 years to eliminate these risks at the 3,400 plants that the DHS says put 1,000 or more people at risk.  

You pointed out our estimate of $12.5 million, which is a tiny sum in the world of big business.  This estimate was intended to be conservative; perhaps it was too conservative. How about this number: 238 lobbyists were hired to weaken regulations.  These lobbyists include former congressmen and dozens of former staffers.


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