Friday, May 2, 2008

Reader Comments – 05-02-08

Thomkay07 (Thomas Kay, Greenpeace Research Fellow) responded to today’s blog about the Greenpeace report on lobbying by the chemical industry. Since he was part of the team that wrote the report, his comments shed additional light on that report.

IST Implementation

Thomas has responded to earlier blogs on the inherently safer technology (IST) topic (see: "Blog Comments – A late reply") and I think that it is safe to say that both he and Greenpeace are in favor of mandatory implementation of IST. I think that it is probably safe to say that there are varying levels of opposition to mandatory IST implementation in the chemical industry.

Thomas points out that "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." The ‘200 plants’ he mentions are plants that were identified in a report by the Center for American Progress, "Preventing Toxic Terrorism". These plants voluntarily implemented one or more IST projects.

Thomas, Greenpeace, and the Center for American Progress have all made the leap of faith that all ‘the 3,400 plants that the DHS says put 1,000 or more people at risk’ can make similar IST changes and should do so as a matter of public policy. That all of these facilities have a viable (much less practicable) IST option is not a fact that has been demonstrated in any way.

Granted, some of those facilities use chlorine for water disinfection, and they can probably change to bleach, or some other form of less dangerous disinfection. There are other chemical processes (though not many) that have had potential IST processes identified. But even for those facilities there may be a number of legitimate reasons why it is not physically or financially feasible to implement those IST measures.

This is an evaluation that must be made on a case-by-case basis, by people that have an intimate knowledge of the chemical processes, the physical plant, and the business realities in existence at each chemical facility. This reality was well understood by the crafters of HR 5577. They took this into account when they wrote the section of that regulation that gives the Secretary the authority to compel IST implementation (see: "Inherently Safer Technology Implementation under HR 5577").

Industry Lobbying

Thomas point out that "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". He points out that the American Railroad Association (AAR) has been a proponent of elimination of the use (actually transport) of chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, and sulfur dioxide while the Chamber has historically lobbied against mandatory IST.

Many companies, and individuals, belong to organizations that they do not agree with on all issues. The large organizations cited in the Greenpeace report as lobbying against chemical security measures, all have been quite public in their opposition to things like mandatory IST and state regulation of security matters. If members find that objectionable enough, they will withdraw from those organizations. But, people and companies belong to these organizations as a way to ensure that their collective voices are heard in the legislative process, much the same way that members of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club do.

To imply that there is necessarily something evil and dishonest in lobbying for or against a point of view is incredibly naive or dishonest, particularly on the part of an organization that is largely an environmental lobby in and of itself. Do not misunderstand, I do not say, imply, or even hint that the chemical industry lobbyists are arguing for the betterment of the American people; they argue for the chemical industry. Other lobbying organizations lobby for their point of view. If all of that is done in a legal and an aboveboard manner, then the political process is served.

Status of Legislation

Thomas makes the point that "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." Actually, I think that the case can be made that the current version of HR 5577 does have a fairly wide consensus of support. As Chairman Thompson pointed out, there are minor issues that remain to be resolved in the amendment process, but the legislation is ready to move forward.

It appears to me that the major hold up now is the inability of the Democrats in the House to get their political act together and appoint a new sub-committee chairman in the Energy and Commerce Committee. If the leadership was serious about this bill, hearings would have been held last month in that committee and they would now be wrangling it onto the floor of the House. I fully agree with the last comment made by Thomas; "We need Congress to move now on permanent legislation that eliminates these risks wherever there are safer, cost effective alternatives."

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