As we all know, the theme of President-Elect Barack Obama's campaign was "change we can
believe in" or sometimes, "change we need." Since the election some have wondered how much real change Obama will succeed in implementing.
While it's much too early to answer that question, let's remember that Obama has also repeatedly reminded us that "change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas..." In other words, it will happen if we get involved.
Long before 9/11 or even Bhopal, Greenpeace has challenged the notion that U.S. chemical plants have no alternative to the storage or use of large quantities of poison gases like chlorine. In 2006, instead of enacting legislation that would require the use of safer alternatives to eliminate the catastrophic risks these plants pose, Congress enacted a temporary law. The new law is so bad it actually prohibits the government from requiring safer alternatives to poison gases and exempts thousands of chemical facilities, including all publicly owned water treatment plants.
So where is President Obama on this issue? Fortunately, he's been a leader on it since he arrived in the U.S. Senate. He wrote about it in Audacity of Hope and co-authored the strongest legislation in the Senate.
When Obama introduced his bill (S. 2486) on the Senate floor he said, "there are other ways to reduce risk that need to be part of the equation. Specifically, by employing safer technologies, we can reduce the attractiveness of chemical plants as a target…This concept, known as Inherently Safer Technology [IST]...reduces the danger that chemical plants pose to our communities and makes them less appealing targets for terrorists.
"Unfortunately, the chemical industry has been lobbying nonstop on this bill. They do not want IST, they do not want protection of state laws and they do not want strict regulations...This is wrong. We cannot allow chemical industry lobbyists to dictate the terms of this debate. We cannot allow our security to be hijacked by corporate interests."
Obama wasn't exaggerating. Greenpeace counted 238 registered industry lobbyists who work on chemical security legislation. We estimate they spent approximately $1 million monthly, hijacking strong legislation and regulations.
During the Presidential campaign, Obama gave strong answers to Greenpeace's questionnaire to Presidential candidates. He also raised the issue in a debate with Senator McCain and again on the Letterman Show. In October, Obama told MSNBC, "I think that chemical plant security is another where the chemical industry has been resistant to mandates when it comes to hardening their sites. But, you know what? If you've got a chemical plant that threatens 100,000, or a million people in New Jersey, we better have some say in terms of how serious they are about guarding that facility."
Since the election, Obama has also listed chemical security on the Transition Team's web site at: http://change.gov/agenda/homeland_security_agenda, but as we look ahead to the new Congress, we will have less than nine months to enact permanent legislation because the interim law expires on October 4, 2009. Obama's leadership will be critical in keeping Congress on the right track. If the new President calls for strong legislation and that is reinforced by the new Secretary of Homeland Security (Janet Napolitano) and the new EPA administrator (Lisa Jackson), the Congress will have an easier time resisting the chemical lobby and paying attention to the people.
While Congress is famous for making compromises, that works better when they’re spending money which is infinitely divisible, than it does on toy safety or protecting communities from another Bhopal disaster. The "change we need" is simply a requirement that high-risk chemical plants that CAN convert to safer technologies do so. The challenge for Congress is to summon the political will to put the risks now borne by more than 100 million Americans ahead of the lobbyists. For the publicly-owned water treatment plants Congress should make available grants, as part of the economic stimulus package, to local water authorities so the cost of their conversion doesn't compete with other local needs.
And let’s remember that any loopholes that are slipped into the new law will also be visible to al-Qaeda or anyone else who would do us harm.
Alternatively, once a plant converts to safer chemicals or processes, as hundreds have already, they might as well notify terrorists directly because attacking them will no longer achieve the disasters they are aiming for.
The good news is that it will happen if "the American people demand it." But we must "rise up and insist on" it. If we don't those 238 industry lobbyists and their PR firms and front groups will spend the year running out the clock and then try to pressure Congress to make the temporary law permanent.
A check of the full specs revealed the MacBook Pro, MacBook and MacBook Air - as well as the LED Cinema Display will now have internal cables free of PVC and will have internal components containing no BFRs. Not quite the breakthrough we were hoping for. These new MacBooks are currently on a similar level of toxics reduction to the Sony Viao laptop series on PVC, and the Lenovo Think Vision in monitors. The BFR free internal components represent an improvement from the bar set by the Vaio line.
However while most, including us, were examining the specs of the new MacBooks, Steve released a long awaited (but much less hyped) update to his May 07 Greener Apple statement made in response to our successful GreenmyApple campaign. It makes very interesting reading, here are the highlights:
The greatest of these challenges has been eliminating PVC and BFRs, which many other companies have only promised to phase out of certain parts like enclosures or printed circuit board laminates. In contrast, we are removing all forms of bromine and chlorine throughout the entire product, not just PVC and BFRs. Apple has qualified and tested thousands of components and mechanical plastics as bromine and chlorine free, and we are in the final stages of developing and certifying PVC-free power cables.
I'm proud to report that all of Apple's new product designs are on track to meet our 2008 year-end goal(to eliminate PVC and BFRs).
In 2007, we achieved a recycling rate of 18.4%, which blew away our target of 13%. Our goal for 2010 was 28%, and we'll beat that in 2008-two years ahead of schedule.On climate change:
We decided to measure the emissions produced at each stage of a product's lifecycle, from production and transportation to consumer use and eventual recycling. Starting today, Apple will report this information for each new product we introduce, so our customers will better understand the progress we're making.
By far the most significant announcement is fact that Apple is on course to be completely PVC and BFR free across in product range. This will be a first for a computer maker and lays down the challenge to competitors such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Toshiba. All have pledged to remove these chemicals in 2009 from PCs but if Apple has solved the challenges involved there's no excuse for any of these companies not to follow Apple's lead on toxic chemicals elimination now and not wait until the end of 2009. The increase in recycling rate and more disclosure on Apple's carbon emission should ensure Apple's score increases in our next version of the Guide to Greener Electronics.
While Apple, and other top electronic companies, still have many challenges on the road to truely green electronics, it can only be a good thing to see a top CEO and high profile a public figure as Steve Jobs devoting significant time to environmental concerns at Apple.
On the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) suspended their presidential campaigns for a day and came together at ground zero in New York City to honor 9/11 victims and their families. Is it possible to keep that cooperation alive? What if they decided to work together in the Senate this fall to complete some unfinished 9/11 business from the last Congress?
In 2006 Congress passed a temporary law to set minimum-security standards for U.S. chemical plants. Unfortunately it was ghost written by industry lobbyists and it actually prohibits the government from requiring the most ironclad security measures. It also expires on October 4, 2009 which will give Congress little time in 2009 to pass any law, let alone one that protects us.
Cities that surround chemical plants have long been recognized as one of the nation's most vulnerable populations to terrorism and catastrophic accidents. The Department of Homeland Security has identified 3,400 chemical plants that if attacked would each put neighboring communities of 1,000 or more at risk. For example, one plant in New Jersey, the Kuehne chemical plant (see disaster map) puts 12 million people at risk due to its use of chlorine gas. According to the company’s own reports to the EPA, the disaster zone extends 14 miles, beyond ground zero in Manhattan.
Former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH) told CBS’s 60 Minutes, “the threat is just staring us in the face. I mean, all you’d have to do is to have a major chemical facility in a major metropolitan area go up and there’d be hell to pay politically.”
All that is protecting these plants today are security guards, video cameras, and fences. Instead of relying on guards and fences, we need to change what makes a chemical plant an attractive terrorist target.
Fortunately, many safer chemicals and processes are available that can turn these plants into safer places that would be pointless for a terrorist to attack. One example is a Canadian company, that’s in the very same business as Kuehne, which plans to open several new U.S. plants. For more information: http://www.k2pure.com/news/28/23/
Safer chemical plants shouldn't be optional they should be the norm just like safer airplanes. But the chemical industry likes the temporary law because it actually bars the government from requiring safer chemicals or processes, in other words it eliminates their strongest competitors. In addition, this law explicitly exempts thousands of chemical facilities including approximately 3,000 water treatment plants, many of which use deadly chlorine gas.
As you might expect the chemical industry wants Congress to do nothing this year and just renew the weak law NEXT year. That won’t make anyone safer but it will make the loopholes permanent. In May we released a report showing that the chemical industry and allies fielded at least 238 registered lobbyists on Capitol Hill to keep the weak law weak.
So far this year only one Committee in Congress has taken action. On March 6th, the House Homeland Security Committee adopted the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008” (H.R. 5577) in a bi-partisan vote. Their bill addressed all the flaws in the temporary law. Unfortunately it has been stalled since June due to a dispute with the House Energy and Commerce Committee (see Greenpeace letter to Speaker Pelosi) over which government agency should regulate drinking water facilities.
In the U.S. Senate no legislation has moved. This is the perfect opportunity for Senators Obama and McCain to join together and break the logjam of special interests and infighting that’s preventing the safeguarding of millions of Americans.
Will they get together again? Stranger things have happened...this year. The cynics will say Congress doesn’t have enough time this year but they’re making time for the oil companies who want to expand their off-shore drilling leases. But if Congress does fail to take action, leaders in Congress and our presidential candidates should promise to put this on their agenda to pass in the first 100 days of the 111th Congress. That's not as good as passing truly protective legislation now but it might give us another reason to vote this year.
-- Rick Hind
• Arsenic-free glass
• Brominated flame retardant-free
It’s great to see Apple dropping toxic chemicals like PVC, BFRs and mercury in their latest products and a victory for everyone who supported our Green my Apple campaign. In May 2007 Steve Jobs stated that Apple would improve it’s environmental record by removing toxic chemicals by the end of 2008 and boosting recycling by 2010.
While these iPods may rock what would really shake up the computer industry is if Apple sticks to it’s promise and becomes the first company to make personal computers free of toxic PVC and BFR’s. That would be truly groundbreaking announcement.
To get a bit techie for a sec – it’s simpler to make small devices like phones, iPods etc without PVC and brominated flame retardants because they use less power (so generate less heat) and have few components. That’s why Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung have phones already free of these toxic chemicals but no company has yet cracked it for computers.
Now what we’d really like for Christmas is to see Apple remove toxic chemicals from all it’s products, and announce a free, global recycling scheme. That would make a very tasty green Apple.
We’re also keeping up the pressure on all the major electronic companies to remove toxic chemicals, improve recycling and be more climate friendly with our quarterly Guide to Greener Electronics. With several companies having committed to significant improvements at the end of 2008 or in 2009 it should be an interesting few months for green electronics.
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