Home > Uncategorized > Chemical (In)Security – Industry Profits Trump Community Safety – Corzine folds

Chemical (In)Security – Industry Profits Trump Community Safety – Corzine folds

In New Jersey, the chemical industry (not government) makes life and death decisions – based on how much it would cost – on whether and how to protect nearby communities from accidental release of toxic chemicals. Talk about “Death Panels”! Consider the “Fatal Fifteen” – There are 15 New Jersey chemical plants where each plant poses a fatal threat to 100,000 people or more. (see Report/list of facilities here)

Why is the chemical industry allowed essentially to regulate itself on such a critical public safety issue? Why are risks from deadly accidental chemical releases to communities kept secret?

Because Jon Corzine, acting as Governor, reversed the strong position he took as US Senator and never delivered on the promises made during his  2005 campaign with respect to mandatory chemical plant safety and open public environmental (EPA) regulatory oversight of the program. That fact was conceded by Corzine’s own head of Homeland Security in this revealing NY Times quote:

IMG_9047Richard Caas, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said the Corzine administration has had difficulty convincing businesses that switching to safer technology is worth the price, which can run into tens of millions of dollars at a single plant. ‘To the extent that replacing technology is going to break the bank, they’re not willing to go that far,” Mr. Caas said. “It’s always money that impedes what you’d like to do.”

The core elements of Corzine’s state level chemical plant safety program regulations, e.g. whether a chemical plant must upgrade technology or change operations to reduce risks – are VOLUNTARY and decided by industry, not MANDATORY and selected by government (see:  Toxic Catastrophe Prevention, inherently safer technology, Security at chemical and petroleum facilities, et al).

Critical aspects of the chemical plant safety program, particularly with respect to public disclosure of health and safety risks posed by chemical plants on nearby communities – such as “off site consequence analyses” that provide maps of the zone where all exposed individuals would die – are kept secret and under control of the Homeland Security regime, not DEP regulators. Homeland Security type restrictions mean that this critical information is kept secret, and exempt from public right to know (RTK) and public records laws (OPRA).

The NY Times was the only press outlet to call Corzine out on that here:

Corzine’s Chemical Security Stance Draws Scrutiny a Year Into His New Job


Published: December 28, 2006

As a United States senator, Jon S. Corzine was relentless in warning that the nation’s chemical plants, and the railways that carry their potentially dangerous cargo, are vulnerable to a devastating terror attack.

Governor Corzine calls his approach sensible and realistic (photo by Mel Evans, AP published in original NYTimes article))

Governor Corzine calls his approach sensible and realistic (photo by Mel Evans, AP published in original NYTimes article))

He traveled the country promoting legislation to force many manufacturers to use fewer toxic chemicals. In 2004, he even stood outside a chlorine plant in northern New Jersey, pointing out its flimsy security to a camera crew from 60 Minutes.

But in the 11 months since he was sworn in as New Jersey’s governor, Mr. Corzine has taken a far more measured approach to the issue, disappointing some of the chemical security experts who helped him form his proposals in the Senate. These advocates say that the Corzine administration has made little tangible progress on increasing security at the 15 New Jersey chemical plants, and that each plant poses a threat to 100,000 people or more. They accuse the governor of being too intent on appeasing the chemical industry, which provides more than 80,000 jobs in the state….

Mr. Corzine’s approach to domestic security illustrates a basic reality of government: sweeping changes are sometimes easier to propose as a legislator in the minority party than to carry out as an executive in power. …

But those rules do not require the companies to adopt the safer processes if they deem them too expensive. And chemical safety advocates, like Rick Engler of the Work Environment Council, say it is often hard to know how much progress has been made because the state has been unwilling to release much information….

State environmental officials have acknowledged that many of the state’s most dangerous plants continue to use and store stockpiles of toxic chemicals near major population centers. That would include the chlorine plant in Kearny, in Hudson County, only about 10 miles from Midtown Manhattan, which Mr. Corzine toured with the 60 Minutes crew.

That story never got out in the NJ press corps, who seemed unwilling or incapable to challenge the spin of Corzine press releases, like this:

But the Governor himself admitted he reversed course in response to pushback by the chemical industry – even more troubling, this is the first time I’ve ever heard traditional regulatory requirements referred to as a “super hammer”:

“I think people in the industry are worried that if we don’t get results we may use the super hammer,” he said, referring to such a mandate. “So we’ve gotten much better response because we’ve done this in a sensible, realistic manner.”

I guess Corzine sure is no carpenter, because he’s kept that “super hammer” well sheathed.

For additional information and links to the pertinent regulatory documents, see:

Chemical plant risk decisions privatized in NJ

New Chemical Plant Rules Rely on Voluntary Measures

Still At Risk: Protecting NJ’s Jobs, Families and Hometowns from Toxic Disasters 

ps – to understand what’s really going on, forget the press releases – you gotta read the fine print of the regulations, like this (see boldface) – this pretty obviously says that the key protective decisions are up to the industry not DEP regulators, and that plant economics can be considered (economics means profits). So the chemical industry itself decides what risks (of death) are feasible and worth reducing: profits before people is policy.

Proposed new N.J.A.C. 7:31-3.6(e) requires the owner or operator to determine whether

the IST alternatives are feasible, which means capable of being accomplished in a successful

manner, taking into account environmental, public health and safety, legal, technological, and

economic factors. (link here) 

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