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August 6, 2010

Activists, Industry Clash Over Security

Antiterrorism: Chemical companies use financial clout to thwart stricter measures, report charges

Glenn Hess

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Report criticizes chemical companies’ lobbying of Congress. Susan Morrissey/C&EN
Report criticizes chemical companies’ lobbying of Congress.

Chemical companies operating facilities that would pose the greatest danger to surrounding communities in the event of a terrorist attack or catastrophic accident spent more than $70 million in the last two years lobbying Congress to block legislation that would require the use of safer chemicals and processes, a public interest advocacy group says in an Aug. 5 report.

"The pay-the-piper, money-in-politics influence of corporate interests in our political process has kept this common sense legislation from becoming law," says Lisa Gilbert, who tracks the flow of money in politics for the U.S Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), which prepared the report.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing more than 140 chemical companies, disputed PIRG's conclusions. "Every year ACC publicly discloses its lobbying activities, and every year groups like PIRG view it as an opportunity to distort our position on critical issues like chemical security," ACC Communications Director Scott Jensen tells C&EN.

PIRG is part of a coalition of activist groups that is urging the Senate to accept the Chemical & Water Security Act (H.R. 2868) passed by the House of Representatives last November. This bill would give the federal government the authority to require the most dangerous chemical facilities to adopt so-called inherently safer technology (IST). These technologies include using less toxic chemicals or switching to safer processes for their operations.

"The Chemical & Water Security Act would protect millions of people from the potential consequences of an attack or accident on facilities using and storing high-hazard chemicals," says Elizabeth Hitchcock, PIRG's public health advocate.

However, late last month the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee approved a different version of the bill that would renew the existing chemical facility security program until October 2013 without including an IST provision (C&EN, Aug. 2, page 13). The current program, which does not include an IST provision, is set to expire in October. It's unclear what action lawmakers will take to keep the program running.

PIRG's report says that 14 chemical companies, including DuPont, Olin, and Dow, spent $69.3 million lobbying the congressional committees with jurisdiction over chemical security legislation in 2008 and 2009. The companies and their affiliated trade associations also gave $2.2 million in the 2008 and current election cycles directly to the campaigns of committee members.

"When public safety takes a backseat to money, it's time to take a hard look at our influence culture and work toward moving money out of politics," Gilbert says.

But PIRG's report fails to mention "the more than $8 billion our members have invested to safeguard their facilities or that we continue to support the successful security regulations already in place," ACC's Jensen says.

"It should come as no surprise that we disagree with PIRG's misleading lobbying effort to undermine the bipartisan chemical security legislation that won unanimous approval in the Senate Homeland Security Committee," Jensen adds.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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