The Greenpeace staffer who leads the group's anti-PVC campaign could become the first environmentalist permanently appointed to a key U.S. government advisory panel for chemical industry trade issues, despite objections from the industry.
The nomination of Rick Hind, Greenpeace's legislative director for its toxics campaign, caps more than a year of legal battling among environmentalists, industry and the government over who can sit on the previously industry-only group. Hind is the only name being put forward by the environmental community to serve on the Industry Sector Advisory Committee for chemicals.
Environmental groups prevailed in a lawsuit forcing the government to add one of their members. Industry officials recently decided to drop their countersuit that tried to block the appointment.
ISAC members do not object specifically to Hind, saying they do not know him. But the prospect of putting an environmentalist in meetings where U.S. government officials review sensitive negotiating positions for global trade talks clearly has industry nervous.
``There is always the risk that the [chemical industry] people will not come [or] will not feel comfortable expressing their views,'' said Geoff Gamble, ISAC chairman for chemicals and chief international counsel with DuPont. ``To sprinkle nonsectoral people in the committee is to muddy the waters. ... You get conflicted input, watered-down input.''
ISAC members need security clearances and are required to keep confidential any classified information discussed at the meetings.
ISAC's input is crucial for developing U.S. government positions for upcoming rounds at the World Trade Organization, Gamble said. Negotiators hope to start a new round of global trade talks at a meeting in Qatar in November, after protests stalled talks at the last WTO ministerial meeting, in Seattle.
Part of the reason the industry dropped its lawsuit is because it does not want to antagonize the government leading up to those talks, Gamble said.
A representative of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. sits on the panel, but a spokeswoman declined comment.
Environmentalists want in because they see ISAC as ``unbalanced and unrepresentative of the broader views of society,'' said Stephen Porter, a lawyer with the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington. Porter has been the environmental community's temporary representative to the ISAC since spring, but he supports Hind's nomination.
Environmental groups ranging from the Natural Resources Defense Council to the World Wildlife Fund support Hind. Two members of Congress, Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., wrote letters in August supporting him.
Hind also is supported by Gordon Durnil, who was appointed by the first Bush administration to chair the International Joint Commission, an oversight body for the Great Lakes. There he tangled with the chemical industry over chlorine issues, which he detailed in his book, The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist.
Both the Department of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative must agree on the candidate. A USTR official said the agency has not decided whether to support Hind's nomination. Commerce officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Hind said the government should recommend him because he is the choice of the environmental community.
``We just don't see any legal or substantive reason to oppose it,'' Hind said. ``If there was a better nominee from my community, somebody with more experience and the environmental community backing, then that would be a fair thing.''
Greenpeace has tangled with the government on plastics-related trade issues before. In 1998, the group convinced then-Vice President Al Gore to tell the Commerce Department to stop its effort to convince the European Union not to restrict phthalates in PVC toys.
Gamble said there is an increased need to hear from ``nontraditional'' groups on trade policy, but he said environmentalists should have their own panel. Some ISAC companies will be lobbying Congress to change ISAC rules, Gamble said. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked the General Accounting Office to examine the structure of ISAC.
ISAC typically has operated by consensus, but Gamble said it could switch to presenting majority and minority opinions on issues.