Immaculate Deception: New "Coalition for Chemical Safety" is actually an industry front group

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

It's got pictures of kids and families.  People of all colors.  Gentle hands cradling our fragile planet.  A hard hat resting on a pair of worn work gloves and a hammer.  It says the coalition is "people like you."  It bears an uncanny resemblance to the website of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, of which EDF is a founding member.  But dig deeper and you'll discover that the website of the "Coalition for Chemical Safety" is actually created and run by industry.

It actually takes quite a bit of digging to ferret out who's behind this group.  Click on "About Us" and you'll be told the coalition is "a non-profit social welfare organization."  Click on "Contact Us" and you'll get only a nondescript form to fill out to have more information sent to your email address.

Nowhere does the website reveal who runs or is behind it.  But clues begin to emerge when you are invited to "Click here to make your business the latest member of the Coalition for Chemical Safety," and when you find that, to do so, you must check a box to avow "I agree to support balanced chemical safety reform that protects public health, innovation, and economic growth" and to identify yourself as "an advocate supporting reasonable reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)." (emphases added)

A clickable map suggests there are coalition chapters in 13 states, although only eight of them list any members.  But the members are hardly the promised "people like you."  Heading the list is the Chemical Industry Council of California.  While the list of members is quite a hodge-podge, others include the Louisiana Propane Gas Association, the Montana Agribusiness Association and the Virginia Biotechnology Association.

[10/27 UPDATE:  I see that, apparently in response to my post and to my comment below, at least a couple of changes have been made to the coalition's website.  First, the "Click here" statement I described above has been changed to remove the reference to "business."  It now reads:  "Click here to become the latest member of the Coalition for Chemical Safety."

Second, a new link on the map has been added for Washington, DC, which now lists the American Chemistry Council as a coalition member.

Still no indication anywhere on the website as to what company or organization is behind or running the coalition, although a Mr. Joe Householder has come forward and identified himself as its Executive Director, via comments on this post (see below) and at the bottom of  the "Contact Us" webpage.]

By searching for who registered the domain name of the coalition's website, we have learned that the website is developed and run by DDC Advocacy, one of several arms of The DDC Companies (short for Democracy Data & Communications, LLC).  The companies "provide comprehensive public affairs services for corporate, trade association, and non-profit clients," specializing in so-called "issues management" – industry-speak for product and corporate reputation defense and protection.

You can read more about DDC Advocacy and its parent, the Alfred Street Partners, at SourceWatch.  DDC Advocacy boasts having nine of the Fortune 10 among its clients.  DDC Advocacy's CEO is B.R. McConnon III, who also serves as a key spokesperson for the National Federation of Independent Business and is a former analyst at the anti-regulatory think tank, Citizens for a Sound Economy.  Its Senior Vice President of Strategic Development is Julie Cram, former Director of Public Affairs for Burson-Marsteller.

Now, far be it from me to suggest industry isn't a key stakeholder in the debate over TSCA reform, or that it doesn't have a right to organize and advocate for its views.

But surely it can do all of that without wrapping itself in a "people like you" cloak of deception!

All this leaves me with two questions:

First, who is paying DDC Advocacy to set up and run the website and organize the coalition?

And second, why are they so afraid of showing themselves?

Real engagement demands transparency.  A good first step would be for the company or organization that started the new coalition to step out from behind the curtain and identify itself.

_________________

Below is the list of companies and organizations identified as members of the Coalition for Chemical Safety, current as of October 25, 2009.

California

Chemical Industry Council of California

Gallade Chemical Inc.

Ross Organic Specialty Inc.

Illinois

Chemical Industry Council of Illinois

Indiana

C.M. Hobbs, Inc.

Calvin Landscape

Dorfman Design Builders

Louisiana

Louisiana Propane Gas Association

Maryland

Cytherian Solutions

Eastern Scientific, Inc.

Golden, Inc.

Maryland Biotechnology Entrepreneurs Coalition

Sequella, Inc.

Marlin Steel Wire

Systems Consulting Group

Intelect Corporation

Medical Supplies Corporation

Regional Manufacturing Institute

Fraley Corporation

Minnesota

Denny C’s Produce

G&G Property Maintenance

Montana

Montana Agribusiness Association

Montana Contractors Association

United Property Owners of Montana

Virginia

Virginia Retail Merchant Association

Virginia State Police Association

Virginia Biotechnology Association

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5 Comments

  1. Posted October 26, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Denison,

    I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Chemical Safety. Thank you very much for referencing us in your post today. It is an organization that has yet to formally launch but as you've pointed out it is an organization with a growing and diverse membership. Although you do not list it, I will confirm up front that another member of the organization is the American Chemistry Council.

    As the website says, the Coalition for Chemical Safety is being built to advocate for a balanced reform of our chemical safety laws. That means a law that places the safety of consumers and workers as its first priority, while also encouraging industry innovation and the American jobs that result from it.

    We are reaching out to businesses, labor groups, industry associations, consumer organizations and environmental organizations in hopes of building a consensus toward a reform that accomplishes these aims. We would, in fact, be honored if you and your organization considered joining us.

    It is my firm belief that this debate does not have to be a zero sum game. As you noted on the website, our frame is Safety, innovation and jobs. With a truly balanced reform we can have all three.

  2. Erica Dahl
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Is there any way that a large chemical company could get involved in environmental protection that would be considered legitimate by EDF?

  3. Posted October 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Householder:

    Thanks for your prompt reply, and also for confirming my suspicion that the American Chemistry Council was also involved. The reason I didn't list ACC is simple: Nowhere on the site that I can find are they identified.

    It's interesting you say you are reaching out to all kinds of groups, given that the website only invites businesses to apply to be coalition members.

    Let me be clear (including for Erica's sake) that I am in no way objecting to industry engaging on these issues, and I myself am frequently talking with companies and their associations and intend to continue to do so.

    What I do object to is when industry pretends to be something it is not, which your website does in many ways, including those I described in my post. If the coalition stops pretending to represent families, kids, workers, etc., we can have a robust dialogue about the direction chemicals policy reform can take in the U.S.

    Regards,
    Richard

  4. Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Allow me to make one clarification. If, as a first time user of the site, you go to the registration page (http://coalitionforchemsafety.com/register.aspx?Code=LoginError) you are directly asked if you are registering to represent a business, if you are an industry worker or if you are a concerned individual. The site's functionality is then to be tailored to your response. To the extent that this is not clear, we will clarify it so thank you for pointing out a flaw in what is still a new site representing a young organization.

    We do, in fact, have a great interest in recruiting individuals who are concerned about this issue because an effective reform of TSCA means their families are safer. We also are striving to recruit those who work in the industry whose jobs depend upon a balanced approach to TSCA reform. And, yes, we are very actively reaching out to businesses and trade organizations who are interested in breaking with the status quo advocating for TSCA reform.

    Again, we are a new organization. To the extent that our membership is not yet as diverse as we would like is a not a result of our aims but more a result of the fact that we have yet to formally begin promoting ourselves in the public sphere. We look forward to a diverse and growing membership base and are appreciative of any interest this ongoing dialogue that you have kindly permitted will generate.

  5. Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    As an additional note, please forgive my typographical error in the last sentence of the second paragraph in the above comment. It should read "…breaking with the status quo and advocating for TSCA reform." I accidentally omitted the word "and" which may make the sentence unclear.

    Again, thank you.

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