- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

You know something is wrong when conservative Republicans support legislation that the radical group Greenpeace gleefully calls "a breakthrough." Sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine, this bill (S. 1602) would slap regulations on industrial facilities in the name of security.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently passed the bill unanimously, but conservatives on that committee should have known better. The bill doesn't really serve security; it serves Greenpeace's radical environmental agenda.

That agenda involves the reduction and eventual elimination of vital chemicals, which would undermine public health and safety despite any claims to the contrary. Senators are now considering passing off the bill as a security measure by making it part of the Senate bill creating a Department of Homeland Security.

If enacted into law, this bill will give environmental activists a potent weapon with which to attack one of Greenpeace's biggest targets: chlorine. In 1993, Science magazine quoted Greenpeace's Joe Thornton proclaiming: "There are no known uses for chlorine which we regard as safe."

Yet, the use of chlorine is one of the greatest public-health achievements in history, saving millions of lives every year. Chlorine doesn't only kill pathogens in our drinking water; we use it to make 80 percent of our pharmaceuticals, disinfect medical equipment, keep our hospitals sanitary, kill bacteria on our produce, and disinfect numerous other things that could otherwise transmit deadly diseases.

The bill targets chemicals like chlorine by giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to force facilities to severely reduce or eliminate the use of certain chemicals. Under this bill, EPA would require facilities that use chemicals to switch to "inherently safer technology," a term which EPA would largely define. The EPA will likely be pressured by Greenpeace and similar groups to define inherently safer as "chlorine free" or at least "severely reduced chlorine use" despite the fact that your water (among other things) might be dirtier in the end.

Activists have already trumpeted the fact that environmental pressure has led some water-treatment plants to reduce the amount of chlorine gas they store on site. Environmentalists cite these as models that the bill could impose on other plants.

But lawmakers should ask, is that approach really safer? What about the risks of increased transportation accidents associated with the potentially more frequent deliveries of chlorine to those facilities? What happens if a transportation problem holds up deliveries and a water-treatment facility runs out of supplies?

One industry representative pointed out the potential peril of such policies at a congressional hearing. He noted that Olympic officials requested that Union Pacific temporarily halt rail transportation of chlorine through Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics. They naively believed that was a good security precaution. Union Pacific wisely denied the request and posted extra security personnel in the area instead. Since facilities usually keep only a couple days supply of chlorine on hand, a moratorium could have caused a public-health crisis.

Residents in Peru learned about such risks in 1991. Inadequate chlorination has been cited in scientific literature as a key contributor in a cholera epidemic that started in Peru and spread throughout the hemisphere, leading to 533,000 cases of cholera and 4,700 deaths.

Rather than reduce amounts of chlorine stored on site, environmentalists urge facilities to switch from chlorine gas to other disinfectants another move that environmentalists call "inherently safer." At question is whether replacements would prove as effective.

Similar recommendations by environmental activists that we switch to allegedly safer products have already created serious problems. For example, Gina Kolata, a science reporter for the New York Times, recently documented dangers created by an environmental campaign that pushed hospitals to eliminate products using mercury. She reported that alternative "mercury-free" blood-pressure equipment sometimes produces terribly wrong readings, leading doctors to administer improper medication. In one case, the wrong medication led a woman to have a stroke.

Chlorine isn't the only target. Should the bill pass, lawmakers should expect numerous problems related to assaults on the use of various chemicals. For example, a Fertilizer Institute representative warned lawmakers at hearings that if EPA tries to prevent domestic ammonia production, we might experience greater risks associated with increased imports moving through high-population centers.

Conservative lawmakers should know that they can never win in a deal with the devil or Greenpeace. Simply stamping the word "security" on legislation doesn't change that reality, even in a post-September 11 world.


Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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