Multinational Monitor

MAY 2001
VOL 22 No. 5


Rollback: The Corporate Regulatory Feeding Frenzy
Foreward by
Monitor Staff

Bush's Corporate Cabinet
by Charlie Cray

The Repetitive Motion Un-Rule
by Deborah Weinstock

Arsenic and Old Regs
by Lynn Thorp

The Roadless Tramelled
by Ned Daly

Bankrupt Policies
by Jake Lewis

Bush’s Hot Air
by Phil Radford

Mining Their Own Business
by Charlie Cray

Defending Contractor Irresponsibility
by Robert Weissman

A Regulatory Accident in the Making
by Charlie Cray

Cheney and Halliburton: Go Where the Oil Is
by Kenny Bruno
and Jim Valette


The Politics and Law of Worker Rights
an interview with
William Gould


Behind the Lines

Challenging the Oiligarchy

The Front
Medical Privacy, For Now

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


A Regulatory Accident in the Making

by Charlie Cray

Environmentalists say that a Bush administration decision to delay a proposal to expand public access to information about the risks and consequences of chemical plant accidents may be the first of many attempts to roll back hard-fought right-to-know laws.

Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, 15,000 chemical-using and manufacturing companies are required to disclose to workers and the public what could go wrong in a “worst-case” chemical fire or spill. The scenarios are part of larger risk management plans required of plant managers to reduce on-site hazards.

The Bush administration action blocks a last-minute Clinton administration proposal that would have made it easier for U.S. citizens to visit reading rooms and review risk management plans on computer systems that let them read the material without copying or printing it.

The chemical industry says it has been a leader in disclosing information to the public, and the public should not fear the Bush administration move.

“One of the reasons that we supported the 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act that created the risk management program is that it is standard operating procedure in our industry, which is why we are one of the safest of all manufacturing industries in the country,” says Jeff Van of the American Chemistry Council (ACC, formerly known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association).

But the Washington, D.C.-based Working Group on Community Right-to-Know says the chemical industry has worked since the early 1990s to weaken the definition of “worst-case scenario” and restrict disclosure of chemical hazard information, invoking the potential for terrorist use of such information as a pretext to restrict the public’s right-to-know.

Paul Orum of the Working Group says that all of the provisions of the 1999 Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act that the industry sought for the purpose of restricting the public’s right to know have been implemented, while none of the provisions that would reduce actual hazards — such as a commitment by the Justice Department to assess the vulnerability of chemical facilities to terrorist activity — have yet been enacted.

The Bush Environmental Protection Agency justified the suspension of the Clinton rule on citizen access to risk management plans on the grounds that it wants to discuss related “national security concerns” with the Justice Department before going forward.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has itself been criticized for failing to complete an interim site-security study it was supposed to finish by August 2000.

“This is just a smokescreen to shut down public information that is embarrassing to an industry that continues to use obsolete chemicals and processes that are inherently dangerous,” says Rick Hind of Greenpeace.

In March, Greenpeace activists demonstrated the weakness of plant security at a Dow Chemical facility in Plaquemine, Louisiana by obtaining photos from inside an unlocked pump house. Officials from Dow did not respond to calls asking for comment.

ACC’s Van says “the profiles of people within companies who are responsible for plant security have increased in importance in the last few years, in part because of the debate that took place” in Congress in 1999 over potential terrorist use of information posted on the Internet. “The bottom line is that we believe that all the data should be made available and is available through the public reading rooms,” Van says.

Greenpeace says that while there has never been a foreign terrorist attack on a chemical facility in the United States, residents living near such plants are continuously terrorized by facility noise and accidental releases that drift off-site.

Greenpeace and the Working Group on Right-to-Know released a survey of accident data from 50 chemical plants in Louisiana’s notorious “Cancer Alley” — the portion of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that hosts one of the densest concentrations of chemical production facilities in the United States.

Each of the 50 facilities in the survey stores enough hazardous chemicals to potentially harm more than 10,000 people off-site. In the last eight years, 32 of the 50 facilities reported accidents resulting in worker injuries, evacuations or “shelter-in-place” emergency response drills in which nearby residents are instructed to barricade themselves in their homes, schools and places of business.

Throughout the United States, 500 hazardous chemical accidents between 1987 and 1994 involved the release of over 100,000 pounds of one or more hazardous chemicals.

Environmental groups worry that the Bush delay of the new disclosure regulations may be the first of a multi-layered frontal assault by the new administration on right-to-know and pollution prevention laws.

They expect the new administration to push for corporate self-monitoring programs instead of regulatory and public oversight.

Both George W. Bush and Christie Whitman rolled back agency enforcement and public right-to-know provisions during their tenures as governor. In New Jersey, Whitman removed more than 1,000 hazardous industrial chemicals from the state’s right-to-know inspection list, once considered the toughest in the nation. As governor of Texas, Bush signed the state’s Audit Privilege Act (dubbed the “polluters’ immunity law” by critics), reducing government inspections and penalties for companies that conducted their own internal audits, which are treated as privileged and confidential information.


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