There was a funny political story that hit the news yesterday -- though "funny" depends on your definition of humor. In this case we'll use it in terms of "unexpected consequences which lead one to be hoisted on their own petard."
The government standards for toxic chemicals haven't been updated in almost 40 years, when they were last set in 1976. That's a lifetime in the world of chemistry, and so the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee was poised to release a new bill today, and in anticipation an advance copy of the bill made its way to the public yesterday.
The bill was pretty draconian, in many ways a leap backwards. It even gutted the standards of states like California which have more protective conditions than federal limits, but prohibiting them. All states would have to be in line with what the federal government required, which was far lower. The bill was so bad that an aide to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who serves on the committee, told her that it looked almost as if it had been written by the chemistry industry itself.
As it happened, the released bill wasn't sent out on paper, or a PDF file, but rather simply as a Microsoft Word document. So, on a whim, Sen. Boxer's staff did a simple "right-click" and checked the document's properties. This is where you can find a lot of arcane, but also basic data about the file, including...well, the author. And there, listed as the author of the bill for new standards on toxic chemicals was -- the American Chemistry Council.
For those wondering, the American Chemistry Council is, indeed, the main lobby organization of the chemical industry.
So...yes, in fact, the bill to change standards for toxic chemical protection appears to have been written by the chemical industry itself.
My favorite comment about all this came from Sen. Boxer. She said, in about as subtle and dry, dripping way as possible -- "“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I do not believe that a regulated industry should be so intimately involved in writing a bill that regulates them."
She has submitted her own alternate bill.
Almost amusing has been the convoluted explanations by the supporters of the bill. One chemical lobbyist group complained that Sen. Boxer "hand-picked" the draft she made public. The reality is that she used the copy that one of the bill's co-sponsors himself sent out yesterday. Then there were the Alice in Wonderland, twisted descriptions about how such an authorship could have come about, of different authors and different hands involved. But as the IT director of Sen. Boxer's office stated, it's there for all to see that the author and organization on the document is the American Chemistry Council.
Perhaps the most unintended substantiation came from the ACC itself. When asked if the lobbyist were in fact the authors, her answer bizarrely wasn't the one you'd expect, like, "Absolutely not, unequivocally no," but rather -- “I have no idea. ... There’s no way for anyone to tell."
(Well...sure there is. You just look at the lines that say, "Author" and "Organization." But still, that's the defense and explanation of the organization itself.)
So, just file this in the "Oops" department. But then, it's hardly surprising. The chairman of this very same Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). You might recall the Climate Change denier (once again, in charge of the Senate environment committee) who made the news a couple weeks ago to much ridicule, bringing a snowball onto the Senate floor, as his "proof" that Climate Change was a fraud.
A snowball in the winter! Who'd have imagined!
It all sort of gives the old slogan, "Making Your Life Better Through Chemistry," new meaning. Or at the very least, a sense of whimsy. In a teeth-gnashing sort of way.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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