Chemical Industry Told to Get Tough
Lobbyist's memo advises hardball tactics for fighting tighter California regulations
GLEN MARTIN / San Francisco Chronicle 21nov03
A leaked memo from a chemical industry lobbyist recommended fighting increased regulation in California by hiring an "attack dog" public relations firm to spy on industry opponents, arrange protests and recruit conservative talk show hosts.
A copy of the memo was obtained by the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization, which said it represents a covert attempt to undermine a growing chemical safety movement in California.
But a lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council was unapologetic, saying the tactics they advocate are employed by environmentalists as well as industry supporters and are meant to frame a legitimate debate on the flaws of increased regulation.
At issue is the precautionary principle, a policy that maintains chemicals should not be approved for the market unless they are proved safe. In the United States, chemicals are generally allowed unless they're proved unsafe.
The precautionary principle holds sway across much of Europe and was recently adopted by the city of San Francisco. Other California municipalities have expressed interest in the concept, and state regulators have begun applying it to some chemicals, most notably flame retardants.
The chemical industry sees the principle as a threat, and is marshalling resources to fight its increased implementation—particularly in California, which is regarded by the industry as a bellwether state.
The APC will use the tactics of the environmentalists, but will go much
further and even go into the area of breaking laws. Industry typically
lies, cheats, steals, bullies, bribes, and in general, will do whatever it
needs to do to continue profiting without regard to safety and human
health. While both industry and environmentalists are unapologetic, we
must compare the motives. For environmentalists, it is to save the
ecosystem and protect human health. The savings and protections are for
the stock holders and corporate figure heads.
The memo reportedly was written by Tim Shestek, a lobbyist for the California office of the American Chemistry Council. It recommended hiring the firm of Nichols-Dezenhall, a Washington, D.C., public relations company known for its aggressive tactics, to carry out an ambitious California campaign against the precautionary principle.
The memo outlined a variety of marketing tactics designed to "stigmatize'' the precautionary principle and "win control of the message war. " Among them, the memo suggested:
- Conduct "selective intelligence gathering about the plans, motivations and allies of opposition activists on an as-needed basis."
- Generate public support by recruiting conservative talk show hosts and business leaders.
- Establish a computer system to track all media, political and regulatory information in California with regard to the principle, and catalog any negative effects of implementation.
- Conduct and publicize an economic study that would "dramatize the potentially devastating effects to industry."
- Use humor and satire "to demonstrate how, taken to its logical extreme, application of the precautionary principle would set Californians back to the Stone Ages."
Bill Walker, West Coast vice president of the Environmental Working Group,
said the council's determination to hire Nichols-Dezenhall, a firm noted for its hardball tactics, shows it is willing to go to the extreme to stop the precautionary principle from being applied in California.
"They're known for creating deceptive, phony front groups," Walker said. "They go through people's trash; they make a policy of hiring former FBI and CIA operatives. Their motto basically is that they're not a PR firm - you hire them when you want to win a war."
The July memo envisioned spending $15,000 a month on the campaign during periods of peak activity, but ultimately the campaign was not funded, Shestek said. While he did not say whether he was the author, Shestek defended the memo.
"We stand by the policy of creating a comprehensive effort to ensure that sound scientific principles remain the cornerstone of regulatory policy," Shestek said. "The precautionary principle is based on fear, not science. A zero-risk policy based on mere allegation clearly turns the rule-making procedure on its head."
Steven Schlein, a senior vice president with Nichols-Dezenhall, defended the firm's tactics. "We may be aggressive in the service of our clients, but we never break the law," he said.
"The Environmental Working Group is doing what they always try to do, which is go after every critic of radical environmentalism. As far as creating groups to oppose an issue, it's typical in these high-stakes public affairs, and it's done by both sides. The groups we create are very real, composed of people genuinely concerned about the issues. They are not fake."
Walker said the memo demonstrates the duplicity of the chemical industry, and indicates it will go to great lengths to hobble the legitimate regulation of dangerous chemicals in California.