Monday, May 16, 2005

Oil Intents and Purposes

One of the classic right-wing arguments against signing the UN Charter was that doing so would undermine US sovereignty. A number of conservatives still object to the WTO and NAFTA on similar grounds (though you hear fewer complaints from them now that Bush is in power; the primal, crypto-sexual thrill of having a corporatist bully in office trumps basic conservative principles nine times out of ten).

I'm sure we all recall the recent public outrage at the thought of our government having to ask for "permission slips" from international busybodies before acting in the best interests of the American people. We were told in no uncertain terms that we would never be obliged to pass the "litmus test" of some shadowy foreign cabal before protecting ourselves at home and abroad.

Apparently, though, a certain shadowy foreign cabal does reserve the right to interfere with our ability to clean up our own water.

A company largely owned by the Saudi government has spent more than $1.5 million since 1998 lobbying Congress to shield the chemical industry from liability for damages caused by MTBE, a potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive that has seeped into water supplies across New England, according to federal documents.
And of course, despite all its prattle about our inviolable sovereignty, the GOP is perfectly comfortable with a foreign government lobbying against US anti-pollution laws:
DeLay is the chief proponent of a provision in the sweeping federal energy bill to relieve the MTBE industry of most liability for cleanup; the item led most New England lawmakers to vote against the measure last year, preventing Senate passage of the bill. DeLay won a fight to include the provision in the new energy bill that passed the House last month, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

The Saudi company, SABIC, is a leading maker of MTBE. It faces loss of business and potentially heavy cleanup costs if Congress does not protect the industry from lawsuits. The company, which has a member of the Saudi royal family as its chairman, has an office in Houston and a research and technology center in Sugar Land, Texas, DeLay's hometown and political base.
Don't bite that cyanide capsule just yet, friend; I have a couple more oil-related items for your amusement.

Traditionally, an oil refinery has been one of the most dangerous places you can work. But in 2002 and 2003, there were no fatalities at America's oil refineries.

Was it Bush's tough new standards? A new regimen of inspections? Better worker education? Safer equipment and processes?

No, it was that old BushCo standby, defining the problem out of existence. The use of independent contractors for the most dangerous jobs means that refineries don't have to reveal onsite fatalities to the government:
"They'll show up in the statistics but not as refinery workers," explained retired Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) economist Guy Toscano. "The more dangerous an occupation, the less likely a company would want to hire those people directly — they want to boost their own safety rates and decrease their liability."

Nor are such deaths generally counted in the refineries' individual injury and accident logs, which OSHA uses to determine its "hit lists" of dangerous facilities targeted for more frequent inspections. The way the U.S. safety statistics are kept, a work site will not generally get a black mark if contractors from other companies are killed or injured there — only if a permanent employee dies or gets hurt.
Last, you'll be pleased to know that Japanese researchers have invented a fuel cell that runs on blood. This could make the slogan "No blood for oil" more timely than ever!


roger said...

i googled "mtbe california canada" to refresh my memory about a canadian firm suing to force calif to use mtbe in gas. don't know how it turned out. also saw that a us firm forced canada to use its (harmful) additive.

monkeygrinder said...

You know, the pentagon is relying quite heavily on contractors right now, for actual soldering, and as one might imagine, they don't show up in the official casualty list.

WHT said...

bloody good post.