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Shocking or Not? Leaked Memo Exposes Industry's Plan Against NGOs
(Beyond Pesticides, December 1, 2003) Infiltration, spying, and fake front groups are all implicitly advised in a leaked, internal memo of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to fight health and environment public interest groups in their efforts to support the movement for a precautionary approach to chemical safety in California and nationwide.

The memo was obtained in November by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy and watchdog non-governmental organization (NGO), which did a data analysis to determine that the memo was written in July by Tim Shestek, ACC’s Sacramento (CA) lobbyist. The strategic document includes a proposal for the ACC to hire Nichols-Dezenhall, a Washington-based corporate PR firm, and spend more than $120,000 annually on the campaign. According to EWG, Nichols-Dezenhall is known to hire former FBI, CIA and DEA agents and use borderline tactics such as spying and digging through trash to gain intelligence. The hardline ACC campaign was proposed in response to the increasing attention toward the Precautionary Principle and its usefulness in to tightening safety restrictions on chemical use.

Beyond Pesticides recently reported that Europe's hotly-debated chemical regulatory reform plan (known as REACH) is influencing some members of the U.S. Congress to write legislation strengthening the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) - a 1976 act which supplements other environmental statutes by authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen, test, and report on industrial chemicals, and ban those that pose an unreasonable risk. (See Daily News story.)

Europe's REACH reform plan is centered on the Precautionary Principle in its approach. Among other things, it calls on the chemical industry to show proof of safety before the product is allowed on the market. While many may think such an approach is already in use in the United States, it is not. In the U.S., chemicals (and technologies in general) use a controversial risk-assessment approach that attempts to calculate the mathematical likelihood that the chemical or product will harm the public. Risk-assessment always allows for a "reasonable degree of hazard" and is based on not causing "unreasonable harm" - all very subjective terms (with "unreasonable" including economic harm to a company or industry).

The idea behind the Precautionary Principle is that in most cases, by the time we have undeniable scientific proof of harm - the damage will likely be too severe to correct. Therefore, the Principle is often referred to as the "common sense approach." Advocates for environment and human health promote the use of the Precautionary Principle due to the broad recognition that there is often a considerable gap in our knowledge of the impacts of chemicals once released in the environment. By using the Precautionary Principal, NGOs and other advocates seek to prevent chemical exposure and utilize known non-harmful, or least-toxic alternative techniques and products. The most common opposing arguments include the stymying of innovation - a controversial claim in its own right.

The ACC memo, according to advocates, demonstrates the savvy way the chemical industry will take whatever measures necessary to win its economic battle against chemical regulation, regardless of the risks to human health and the environment. ACC tactics in the memo include "selective intelligence gathering about the plans, motivations and allies of opposition activists" and "recruiting and arming new highly credible third party allies in from appropriate communities (e.g., the minority community, consumer activists, regulatory watchdogs, think tanks) to deliver messages critical of the [Precautionary Principal] concept." The memo also suggests using examples like the banning of DDT and other lethal chemicals to show the so-called harm such bans have caused.

Vice President of EWG's West Coast office, Bill Walker, wrote ACC a letter asking the Council if it would be hiring the Washington, DC-based PR firm and employing the tactics outlined in the memo. He calls the plan an "underhanded and deceptive attack" against California's NGO community and says the plan to recruit paid PR people "to masquerade as independent voices supporting ACC's agenda" is particularly disturbing.

The ACC memo can be viewed at http://www.ewg.org/briefings/acc/.