Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Security Argument

It's old news that Senator James Inhofe is blocking a bill that would require certain chemical plants to strengthen their security. But a new story on Inhofe's bizarre behavior contains an additional detail that caught my eye:

Inhofe argued that environmental groups pursued chemical substitution such as a ban on chlorine for years, but latched on to the security argument since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That’s terrible. I mean, what kind of unprincipled demagogue would exploit concerns about national security in order to force longstanding agenda items through Congress? And who but a dirt-worshipping hippie would view chemical substitution as a possible form of precaution against terrorist attack?

Sarcasm aside, the punchline here is that the bill in question doesn't call for chemical substitution, or the use of "inherently safer technology," or - least of all - a ban on chlorine.

Beyond that, the claim that environmental groups are calling for “a ban on chlorine” – as opposed to gradual substitution and phase-out of industrial organochlorines - is dubious at best. As Donella Meadows explains:
There may be extremists who talk of banning chlorine -- every movement, religion, and political party has its lunatic fringe. But I have never heard an environmentalist advocate a "chlorine ban." The only folks I've known to use those words are a few excitable members of the press, and the Chlorine Institute and other organs of the chemical industry, which have launched a letter campaign to Congress, asking it not to ban chlorine.
”Excitable” is a polite way of putting it. Back in 1997, the late J. Gordon Edwards floated the weird proposition that Greenpeace was literally trying to rid the world of chlorine:
I have an idea for Hollywood's next futuristic blockbuster. The name of the film? "The Lost Element." The premise? The elimination of one of nature's elements from the periodic table--and from the world. Too strange for fiction? Not if Greenpeace has its way.
Earlier, the Competitive Enterprise Institute had claimed that Greenpeace intended “to eliminate every last man-made chlorine molecule from the face of the earth." Apparently, that fantasy wasn’t quite outlandish enough for Edwards.

It’s fascinating how paranoiac myths and petty grudges like these drive policy decisions at the highest levels of government, to the extent that we can’t even secure chemical plants against terrorism lest we somehow give aid and comfort to Greenpeace.

One more thing to remember the next time you hear that "9/11 changed everything."

(Photo by Raghu Rai.)

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