Monday, August 9, 2010

Reader Comment 08-07-10 Influence

Fred Millar, a long time reader and well known acitivist, took objection to some of my comments on the political aspects of the most recent PIRG Report on chemical security issues. As always, Fred’s comments are worth reading in their entirety. The tone of Fred’s comments reflect his commitment to the causes that he supports, but are also indicative of the reasons that once again there will almost certainly be no comprehensive update of the CFATS authorization this year. Both sides of this debate have vociferously ignored the legitimate interests of the people on the other side of the ‘discussion’. This failure to engage in a real dialogue (again on both sides of the issue) makes it impossible to reach a reasonable compromise that both sides can live with. In the current situation, since the current authorization is certainly flawed and inadequate, the failure to engage in dialogue benefits the corporate interests that do not want to see that authorization expanded. Now PLEASE don’t think that I am blaming Fred for the current impasse. There are two sides to this lack of discussion and both sides bear a full share of the blame for making it next to impossible to engage in a constructive dialogue. Name calling, vilifying the opposition and exaggerating the goals of the other side do nothing to move a political dialogue forward. Legitimate Interests Chemical companies have a legitimate interest in influencing any legislation that will have an impact on their operations; influencing not dictating. Their management has a legal obligation to their owners (that includes a large number of their employees and members of the public who own stock through 401K plans and other investment vehicles) to ensure that the companies operate at a profit within the constraints of the current legal system. Corporations cannot vote, so they must effect their legitimate influence through legal campaign contributions and legal lobbying efforts. The activists of the ‘blue-green coalition’ have legitimate concerns about the safety of hazardous chemicals in commerce. They have seen too many examples of inept and/or shortcut safety and security practices that have resulted in releases of too many of these chemicals harming the public in both the short term and long term. They have seen too long a history of too many chemical facilities ignoring safety concerns to the detriment of their customers and local communities. As a result they feel that they cannot trust current chemical facility management to do the right thing when it comes to safety and security. These organizations cannot vote either; they effect their influence on the political process through publicizing their points of view and organizing individuals in political activism campaigns to influence legislators. Finally, safety and risk are not absolute values. There is no such thing as zero risk or absolute safety. There is a continuum of values that only tangentially approaches zero. Moving any product or process lower on the risk/safety scale requires the expenditure of energy and money. Incremental changes in risk or safety require higher and higher expenditures as one gets closer to zero. What is an acceptable risk or acceptable safety or a reasonable expenditure to achieve increased safety/risk can only be determined through a full frank discussion in the political process. Political Discussion We need to stop yelling at each other and start talking with each other. Otherwise nothing substantive is going to be accomplished. We will remain at the inadequate status quo until some terrorist organization finally realizes what a juicy target these enterprises actually are and figures out a way to exploit the weaknesses in security that remain because of our political failure to address the problems. The consequences for the public and the corporations will be unbearable.

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