Friday, August 6, 2010

New PIRG Report

Yesterday the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) published a new report as part of a continuing campaign to convince Congress to pass comprehensive chemical security legislation that includes a requirement for high-risk facilities to consider possible inherently safer technology. Along with other members of the Green Coalition, they also want that legislation to include authority for DHS to be able to require the highest risk facilities to implement such IST techniques. Most of the chemical facility information included in this report is simply an updating of the information that was included in a two year old report by the Center for American Progress, Chemistry 101. In fact this report credits the author of that earlier report, Paul Orum, for the facility information in this report. As in the earlier report the information has been compiled from information provided by the facilities to the Environmental Protection Agency as the facility ‘worst case scenarios’. Decrying Political Spending What is relatively new in this report is the compilation of information on lobbying efforts by the chemical industry. The information is a compilation of reported spending by the chemical industry (in particular the most ‘dangerous’ 14 companies identified in the report) and their political action committees. In particular the report looks at spending intended to influence the two House Committees and two Senate Committees looking at chemical security legislation. There is no claim of illegal spending in this report. But the authors do complain at great length about the ability of corporations to spend money to influence law makers that potentially can control the business environment in which the companies must operate. They failed to note that the ‘corrupting influence’ of this spending completely failed to stop the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee from passing HR 2868. HR 2868 was vociferously opposed by the ‘big spending’ chemical industry, even in its ‘weakened’ final form and still it passed. So much for the influence of industry and its big money. Revolving Door Lobbyists The final area that this report addresses is the influence of former congressional aids and staff working for chemical lobbying organizations. They list 20 former committee staff members or congressional staff members that work for the lobbying organizations representing the 14 ‘dangerous’ companies, chemical trade organizations, or their political action committees. Looking at the list of 20 former staffers provided in the report, it is interesting to note that only three of them came from offices of Republican legislators. Presumably the staffers of Democrats are not only selling their influence but they sold their souls to get these jobs, forgoing the ‘liberal’ agenda that they supported while working for members of Congress. It would be interesting to see how many former congressional staffers currently work for the various members of the Blue-Green Coalition that recently petitioned the Senate Homeland Security Committee to support HR 2868 as passed in the House. Now I can certainly agree that there is some concern with people in the Executive Branch going from a regulating agency to working for companies that they used to regulate. That calls into question the fairness of the regulation process, wondering if the regulators were shopping for jobs by going easy on their prospective employers. I can even understand (though I’m not sure I share the same concerns) why people might get concerned about powerful politicians retiring and going to work for lobbying organizations. The friends and contacts that a politician builds up over a lengthy political career would certainly give that person an advantage over other lobbyists. I’m not sure that their former political influence still transfers to the new job. What I do not understand is the concern about staffers working for lobbyists. The process knowledge and networking connections that staffers bring to the lobbying process is certainly valuable for the lobbying firm. And staffers certainly have some influence on the thinking of the Congressperson that they work for, but that influence would not be expected to extend much beyond that single office. Even then it would be diminished after the staffer leaves for private employment. Political Process I always get concerned when someone involved in the political process starts to complain about the influence of lobbyists, or lawyers, or corporations, or labor, or environmentalists on the legislative process. All of these groups have legitimate interests in the various laws and regulations established by the government. They all try to influence the process to obtain an outcome in line with their particular interests. That is the way that politics works, the way that it is supposed to work. Ideas compete in the political market place and are modified in the process. Different groups use different methods to advance their point of view; methods appropriate to their message and ideals. The political discussion is supposed to be about the message, the ideas. When those involved in the political process start to concentrate on the personalities or methods of the opposition, one begins to wonder about the convictions of their ideas. Complaining about the political tools used by the opposition will have no affect on the discussion of the issues. This document will certainly be talked about in the process. I don’t think that it will have as much influence on the discussion at the CAP document did two years ago. That earlier document pointed out the same problems at chemical facilities, but offered practical solutions. It even acknowledged that those solutions would not be applicable at all facilities. This report does not spend as much time on the issue at hand and only briefly addresses the proposed alternatives, so it will have less of an impact on the discussion of that issue. And that is a shame since the issue of alternative chemicals and processes certainly needs to be discussed.


Fred Millar said...

C'mon, PJ:

So you don't think the big money spenders in the chemical industry did not influence (severely weaken) all the chemical security bills in the Congress?
[And the 2007 rail security re-routing bill I was closely involved with, HR 1, Section 1551, in which the railroad lobbyists won every significant fight over legislative language, with the result that the outcome is ludicrously bad]
And you think the green eyeshade executives at major corporations who spend big bucks to hire former legislators and staffers are puzzlingly irrational in that they are wasting their money and do not get what they pay for year after year -- access? (not just issue expertise, or they would instead be spending their money on university professors or industry consultants, right? Not that they don't buy those prostitutes also, as anyone closely involved can attest)

You don't think the political spending of the oil and gas and nuclear industry accounts for their huge subsidies vs. clean energy and their retardation of movement towards planet-saving climate change legislation?

It's all equality for all, level playing field "free speech", huh, since the 5-4 US Supreme Court has activistly declaimed it so?
Good grief.

PJCoyle said...

See my response to Fred Millar's comments at:

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