Thursday, May 22, 2003

So Long Christie

Proudest Accomplishment: Protecting the Nation's Chemical Industry

I have to admit, I won’t be sorry to see Christie Todd Whitman go. I’m sure she had better intentions than the Bush Administration allowed, but good intentions and $1.10 will get you a non-rush hour ride on the Metro. Integrity, on the other hand, is worth something. I would have thought better of her had she sent a message to Bush blasting the obvious corporate control of the Administration’s environmental agenda. But that would clearly be too much to ask for.

More knowledgeable minds than I will write her political obituary. I’ll settle for a few comments about this paragraph of her letter of resignation:
In addition, the Agency has played a key role in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the subsequent anthrax attack and in promoting the security of our homeland. The work EPA did in the aftermath of those attacks will long be a proud chapter in this Agency's history. As the federal lead for protecting the Nation's water infrastructure and the chemical industry, we also have added significantly to efforts to reduce the vulnerability of those sectors to terrorist attack.
There are a lot of angry and sick New Yorkers who think that the EPA dropped the ball big time by dismissing within days of 9/11 any possible health threat posed by the virtual pulverization of the World Trade Centers. You can check out the NYCOSH website for more information on that subject.

But the real whopper is the last sentence, a Freudian slip when parsed: "As the federal lead for protecting the Nation's water infrastructure and the chemical industry." Protecting the Nation's... chemical industry?" Well, yeah, but I didn't think she was supposed to be quite so up front about it.

I'm charitably assuming she really meant "protecting the security of the nation's chemical industry [and] added significantly to efforts to reduce the vulnerability of those sectors to terrorist attack.” The only possible response to that claim is "Huh?"

The only significant act I remember coming from EPA on this issue was to drop the ball last October, claiming that EPA had decided not to regulate in the area of chemical plant security because they feared getting sued – by their friends. Wouldn’t want to issue any chemical industry security regulations if you thought your were going to get sued by the chemical industry. Wouldn’t be prudent, in the words of Bush the elder.

Oh and they organized a few visits to chemical plants to discuss their voluntary efforts prevent terrorist attacks -- without regulations or government interference, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Back on the (Tank) Farm

Speaking of chemical plant security, the Wall St. Journal had a good article today (appropriately titled "Chemical Manufacturers Elude Crackdown on Toxic Materials"), unlike their atrocious editorial from a few weeks ago that I wrote about.

The article discusses the early days not too long after 9/11 when the push toward "inherently safer technologies" in Senator Corzine's bill made sense:
The logic won influential converts. Mr. Corzine's legislation set as one goal "reducing usage and storage of chemicals by changing production methods and processes." President Bush's Environmental Protection Agency drafted its own bill -- for internal administration debate -- with similar goals.
That was before the chemical industry, shocked that the bill cleared the Senate committee unanimously, geared up for battle.
While lawmakers went on vacation, the chemical lobby went to work. The ACC and the API called on other business groups to gin up broad-based resistance. When the new coalition met at the API's Washington offices in early August, Kendra Martin, the petroleum institute's director of security, says she asked them: "Are you aware of the Chemical Security Act and how onerous it might be?" On Aug. 29, 30 groups -- from truckers to paint makers -- signed a letter to all senators urging them to oppose the legislation.

Prodded by the Fertilizer Institute, farm lobbyists wrote a letter expressing concern about a ban on "chemicals responsibly used and needed by agriculture" such as ammonia, a vital ingredient in fertilizers. The 3,700-member National Propane Gas Association generated 8,500 letters warning of the demise of the backyard gas grill. The Chlorine Chemistry Council raised the specter of massive economic disruption, calculating in position papers that "chlorine products and their derivatives account for 45% of the nation's gross domestic product."

The Corzine bill didn't actually call for banning any of those materials, but opponents nevertheless warned of unintended consequences.
And then the "greenbaiting" started:
Seaver Sowers, a lobbyist at the Agricultural Retailers Association, says he made sure to tell members and legislators that Greenpeace backed the Corzine bill. The Ohio Chemistry Technology Council rallied companies to contact the state's senators to offset an "aggressive grassroots campaign" by "Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and other environmental activist groups."

When Congress returned in early September, bipartisan support for the legislation unraveled. Seven Republican senators who had voted for the bill in committee now issued a statement saying the proposal "misses the mark." They declared: "We feel compelled to offer amendments to address concerns ... that have arisen from scores of stakeholders."
Of course, there's more and more evidence that the chemical industry is not really concerned
Companies have struggled to balance security and profits. DuPont Co. says that since Sept. 11 it has spent $20 million to bolster security, but the company is hesitant to undertake much more. "There is an endless amount of money we can spend on security," Charles O. Holliday Jr., DuPont's chief executive officer, says in an interview. "The question is: How do we have enough security and stay competitive?"

Critics worry that many companies are more focused on the latter.
And although Senator Inhofe (R-OK)has introduced a bill that the industry has labeled "a good start," House Republicans don't seem to anxious to do anything: "I think what the administration and private sector have done so far appears to be adequate," says Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of a key subcommittee handling the issue. "I don't personally see a need for legislation of any kind."

Good thing we had Christie Whitman taking care of things. Don't know how we'll possibly feel safe without her.