Chemical industry's (formerly) secret plan to attack California's anti-toxics trend

Memo calls for phony front groups, spying on activists

provided by Environmental Working Group

he chemical industry plans to conduct a covert campaign attacking the growing movement in California for more chemical safety testing, with tactics including the creation of phony front groups and spying on activists, according to an internal American Chemistry Council (ACC) memo obtained by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

    The memo, available at, offers a rare inside glimpse of the deceptive and underhanded tactics used by some corporations and public relations firms to lobby against tougher environmental regulations. It recommends that ACC, the lobbying association for US chemical companies, hire a crisis communications firm that promotes itself as the attack dog of the public relations industry to fight back against California's adoption of laws and regulations that embrace the “precautionary principle.”

    The precautionary principle, a policy that says new chemicals should not be allowed on the market unless they're proven safe, has gained a strong foothold in Europe, and in recent years California has enacted measures applying the principle to several pollutants including, most recently, chemical flame retardants. Despite the fact that two-thirds of the public believes that such protections are in place already, the Bush Administration has opposed their realization here in the United States.

    The memo warns that the state's embrace of the precautionary principle is a threat to the entire US chemical industry because “California's political climate makes the state more susceptible to policy and thinking inspired by the PP [precautionary principle] than other geographic region... California is a bellwether state, and any success enjoyed here could readily spill over to other parts of the country.”

    It recommends to ACC members that they pay $120,000 a year to Nichols-Dezenhall, a Washington-based firm that hires former FBI and CIA agents, to conduct “selective intelligence gathering ... about the plans, motivations and allies of opposition activists... Focus on the PP 'movement leadership' in the United States, and in particular, California.”

    The memo says Nichols-Dezenhall would also “create an independent PP watchdog group to act as an information clearinghouse and criticize the PP in public and media forums... The group could be structured as a tax-exempt organization.”

    EWG obtained the document from a confidential source outside the chemical industry who received it from ACC, which was recruiting other industries as allies in the campaign. Microsoft Word data embedded in the document confirms that it was written in July by Tim W. Shestek, an ACC lobbyist in Sacramento.

    In a Nov. 19 letter to ACC's President Greg Lebedev and Vice President for State Governmental Affairs Roger Bernstein, EWG asked if the association had hired the firm to execute the plan. Among Nichols -Dezenhall's reported tactics are digging through the trash of its' clients opponents. (The letter is available at

    Creating phony front groups is “patently deceptive in its effort to use third parties to carry the message because, understandably, the ACC lacks credibility and trust in any discussion of the safety of its members' products,” said the letter from Bill Walker, EWG's vice president for the West Coast. “However, the third tactic, “selective intelligence gathering,” pushes the ethical envelope toward dirty tricks, given Nichols-Dezenhall's reputation for such techniques.”

    “As someone whose trash might be searched,” Walker said today, “I'd at least like to know the lengths ACC is planning on going to in order to stop common-sense public protections in the State of California. ACC has spent millions on advertising and corporate PR to position itself as a solid corporate citizen, with nothing to hide from the public.”

    EWG is a nonprofit public health and environmental watchdog organization that uses the power of information to give people the tools they need to be engaged environmental citizens in their communities.