Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated huge swaths of the coastal
damaging homes, businesses and public facilities including roads, water
treatment plants and power systems. There have been pleas for donations of
food, clothing, water and personal hygiene products. Thousands of first
responders, power company employees and civilians have rushed in to save lives.
in a surprise move got its act together and responded promptly with federal
funds to support the recovery effort.
All of that has been big news, including the explosion and fire at the Arkema chemical plant outside
which sickened first responders when the toxic fumes from a fire blew over
them. Knowing what chemicals are stored at a site which is at risk of fire,
flood or other catastrophic event is important for a number of reasons. If you
know what might explode or catch fire you can take the precautions necessary to
protect your life and health such as wear a gas mask or respirator, wear hazmat
gear or increase the distance between the material and you and the people you’re
protecting. Then in the aftermath when you’re trying to clean up the mess it’s important
to know what chemicals may have contaminated the soil and water. If you’re a
fan of CSI or a medical show based in an emergency room you probably know that
it’s a lot easier and faster to find a toxin in someone’s blood if you already
have an idea of what you’re looking for. Now imagine you’re in the Houston refinery and
chemical plant corridor. Wouldn’t you want to know what chemicals you’re likely
What you may not know is that Arkema and other similar chemical plant operators have successfully lobbied to be relieved of their responsibility identify the chemicals stored at their facilities. They spent a few hundred thousands of dollars and stand to save millions. The risk of their failure to disclose can be measured by the damage to the health of the first responders charged with keeping people in the area surrounding their facility safe and the contamination that the public will be contending with for years to come. There is so much toxic material in the flood waters that people are being told not to even try to recover their clothes from flooded homes as the toxins can’t just be washed out.
The hurricanes are the only big news affecting millions of people though, credit reporting company Equifax just announced that due to a security breach 143 million Americans are now in danger of having their identities stolen. How is this connected to the disastrous hurricanes and the undue influence of money in politics discussed in the paragraphs above you might ask? It turns out that Equifax along with the other big credit reporting firms are lobbying congress to prevent the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s regulations on forced arbitration from taking effect later this year. Why is that important? It’s important because Equifax states on their webpage where you’re supposed to go to find out if your social security number and other identifying information was stolen has a small print item which says that by checking on your information you are accepting their claim that you can’t sue them and must use arbitration to get restitution. In other words if you ask them if they failed in their duty to protect your information you have absolved them of responsibility for their failure.
These are just two examples this week of the power of money to influence regulations meant to protect Americans. Why do we allow this to continue?