Monday, November 24, 2003

California Here We Come?

California just drives conservatives and the business community crazy. Despite the election of Governor Arnold, California is enough to make right-wingers wonder what they ever saw in the concept of states rights.

In 1986, Californians passed Proposition 65 which requires the Governor to publish a list of chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, and put controls on those chemicals to protect the state's air and water.

California also has the nation's only remaining ergonomics standard. The state has recently come under attack by corporate interests for setting higher automobile emission standards, and is even under attack for trying to control emissions from lawn mowers.

But what's really driving the chemical companies crazy is California's flirtation with the precautionary principle," a policy that says new chemicals should not be allowed on the market unless they’re proven safe. I have written before about the REACH initiative which is currenly being considered in the European Union. San Francisco has already adopted a version of the REACH initiative. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has also passed a resolution supporting REACH and opposing US opposition to REACH. Meanwhile, some state legislative are staff drafting legislation for a REACH-like program for the state.

Generally, anti-regulatory business interests have been fairly successful in using million dollar advertising and lobbying campaigns to squash regulatory initiatives. Now, however, it seems that anti-precautionary principle interests, led by the American Chemistry Council are trying new tactics.
The chemical industry may be considering a covert campaign to attack a growing effort in California forcing more chemical testing, according to a leaked "memo" from the American Chemical Council obtained by the Environmental Working Group.

The council, representing manufacturers of 90 percent of the chemicals and most plastic resins sold in the United States, denied such plans were afoot, saying Thursday the memo was instead a proposal received from a public relations firm and has not been enacted.

Nonetheless the council, a spokesman said, did pass along to other industry groups the four-page proposal, which outlines a strategy to "stigmatize" the pro-testing movement and create an "independent ... watchdog group" acting as a pro-industry information clearinghouse.


The proposal, created sometime in July according to data embedded in the computer file provided by the Environmental Working Group, outlines a public awareness campaign with a projected cost as high as $15,000 per month.

Parts of the strategy call for organizing protests timed with key votes in the Legislature, the creation of a "non-business led coalition" to provide testimony against the precautionary principle, and "selective intelligence gathering" of industry opponents.

Nichols-Dezenhall, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis management and public relations firm known for its bare-knuckled tactics, wrote it, said the firm's senior vice president, Steven Schlein.

"It was designed by us because of the business climate in California," he said. "That's the way to wage a long-term public affairs campaign. You get supporters."
According to the Environmental Working Group
Creating phony front groups is “patently deceptive in its effort to use third parties to carry the message because, understandably, the ACC lacks credibility and trust in any discussion of the safety of its members’ products,” said the letter from Bill Walker, EWG’s vice president for the West Coast. “However, the third tactic, “selective intelligence gathering,” pushes the ethical envelope toward dirty tricks, given Nichols-Dezenhall’s reputation for such techniques.”
Fun times we're living in.