BLOCKING REGULATION OF TOXINS

ABSTRACT: Corporations with a financial interest in the use and sale of toxic chemicals are engaged in a major, multi-faceted effort to prevent, weaken, and delay regulation. They work to prevent clear, unbiased, scientific information from being available to our policy makers and the public. They engage in efforts to affect the regulatory process – from the enactment of laws to the implementation of regulations – in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. They work to make the whole process as long and complicated as possible. This gives them many opportunities to block, weaken, and delay the actual regulation of a toxic chemical.

The chemical industry works to limit the effectiveness of any regulations eventually implemented and of the agency enforcing them.

It achieves results by using the standard tactics of 1) Campaign contributions, 2) Lobbying, and 3) The revolving door of personnel moving between the industry and legislative and executive branch staff positions, which result in personal relationships (and potential conflicts of interest) that can benefit the chemical industry.

Given that corporations typically have more resources, a more singular focus, and greater longevity for waging the battle against regulation than those working to regulate a toxic chemical, dragging out the process and making it costly generally works to their advantage.

FULL POST: Corporations with a financial interest in the use and sale of toxic chemicals are engaged in a major, multi-faceted effort to prevent, weaken, and delay regulation, despite threats to public health and safety, as well as to the environment. These corporations work to prevent clear, unbiased, scientific information from being available to our policy makers and the public. They engage in efforts to affect the regulatory process – from the enactment of laws to the implementation of regulations – in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. [1] The regulation of lead [2] (see post of 6/2/13 for more detail) and tobacco are classic examples. (Similar efforts are occurring in other arenas, such as climate change and regulation of the financial industry.)

The efforts of the chemical industry on the legislative front are both proactive and reactive, offensive and defensive, as well as high profile and hidden. Examples, for among many, include:

  • The fracking* industry proactively but quietly got legislation passed that exempted fracking from review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This happened in 2005 under President Bush and Vice President Cheney and is widely referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole” because a major beneficiary is Cheney’s previous employer, Halliburton Co.
  • The genetically modified organism (GMO) industry quietly attached a provision to an emergency budget bill (passed and signed into law by President Obama) that allows corporations (notably Monsanto) to sell GMO seeds for agriculture even when a federal court has ordered them not to. [3]
  • A provision in the 2013 Farm Bill, currently in the US House of Representatives, would prohibit states from enacting laws requiring the labeling of food with GMO ingredients or otherwise regulating the production of agricultural goods. [4]

The chemical industry achieves legislative results by using the standard tactics of:

  • Campaign contributions to Congress people (and state legislators) who have oversight roles,
  • Lobbying, and
  • The revolving door of personnel moving between the industry and legislative staff positions, which result in personal relationships (and potential conflicts of interest) that can benefit the chemical industry.

Then, once laws are in place, the chemical industry works to make the process of implementation through rules and regulations as long and complicated as possible. This gives it many additional opportunities (beyond those of the legislative process) to block, weaken, and delay the actual regulation of a toxic chemical.

The chemical industry also works to limit the effectiveness of any regulations eventually implemented and of the agency enforcing them. One way is to lobby to make the regulations as complex as possible with loopholes and details that make them difficult to enforce and open to court challenges. This can include putting the burden of proof on the agency as opposed to the corporation and setting a high standard of proof or harm. For example, the Toxic Substances Control Act gives the EPA just 90 days to find “unreasonable risk” if it wants to regulate a new chemical (see post of 6/2/13 for more detail). Another tactic is to require an extensive and often biased cost-benefit analysis of any new regulation.

The tactics of lobbying and the revolving door of personnel, in this case involving the regulatory agency in the executive branch rather than the legislative branch of government, are used to achieve these results.

A regulatory agency can also have its effectiveness hurt by budget cuts or legislative failure to confirm key agency personnel. And challenging regulations or regulatory decisions in court uses the judicial branch of government as another way to delay and drive up the costs of regulation.

Finally, the chemical industry engages in efforts to control the flow and clarity of information. Corporations with a stake in research on a potentially toxic chemical will create a false and parallel science by paying for biased research and will control, as much as possible, the dissemination of scientific information. They will attack scientists, sometimes directly and personally, including threatening them and suing them, when their research finds toxic effects from the corporation’s chemical. [5] An important goal of these efforts is to create false or exaggerated doubt in the minds of policy makers and the public about the harm that a chemical causes.

Trade associations like the American Chemical Council and public relations experts are used in efforts to manipulate public opinion and influence the media. Supposedly independent groups are created and funded specifically to promote the industry’s position. These allow the corporation with a vested interest to remain behind the scenes and apparently independent of public relations efforts to downplay evidence of dangers, exaggerate uncertainty, allege misconduct by scientists who find toxic effects, and plant inaccurate or biased stories in the media. [6][7]

To avoid having to share information with the public, corporations will claim that it represents “trade secrets” or “proprietary information”. For example, the fracking industry makes such claims when asked to reveal the chemicals it is pumping into the ground to release natural gas. This claim is also used to avoid labeling products with their chemical contents. Eastman Chemical Co. has used this claim to suppress information from a court case on the presence and effects of chemicals in its plastics. [8]

Given that corporations typically have more resources, a more singular focus, and greater longevity for waging the battle against regulation than those working to regulate a toxic chemical, dragging out the process and making it costly generally works to their advantage.


 

[1]       Union of Concerned Scientists, Feb. 2012, “Heads they win, tails we lose: How corporations corrupt science at the public’s expense,” http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/abuses_of_science/how-corporations-corrupt-science.html

[2]       Rosner, D., & Markowitz, G., 5/17/13, “Toxic disinformation,” Bill Moyers’ public TV show, available at billmoyers.com

*      Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing where high pressure water and other fluids, including toxic chemicals, are injected into the ground to release natural gas.

[3]       McCauley, L., 5/20/13, “Senator leads call to repeal the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’,” http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013.05/20-2

[4]       Sheets, C.A., 5/17/13, “’Monsanto Protection Act 2.0’ would ban GMO-labeling laws at the state level,” International Business Times

[5]       Riley, T., 5/18/13, “Blinding us from science,” http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/18/blinding-us-from-science

[6]       Rosner, D., & Markowitz, G., 4/29/13, “You and your family are guinea pigs for the chemical corporations,” TomDispatch.com

[7]       Union of Concerned Scientists, Feb. 2012, see above

[8]       Dubose, L., 6/1/13, “Silencing science: What you may never know about plastic baby bottles,” The Washington Spectator

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