Crying "wolf" once too often
Representing as it does a science-based industry, the Chemical Industries Association has developed a disturbing tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. Relying mainly on the results of its annual surveys of its member companies' capital spending plans, the CIA has been warning for at least three years that the industry will imminently be confronted with a burden of environmental expenditure which will cripple its capacity to invest in wealth-generating and innovative projects.
A glance back through the CIA's own survey reports yields a quite different conclusion (see pp 3-4 ). The salient findings are as follows. First, in the past three years chemical manufacturers have invested only just over half the sum in environmental protection which a CIA survey predicted they would do two years ago. Second, the sharp increase in environmental investments which the industry was predicting for 1991 happened neither then nor in 1992, nor is it now expected this year or in 1994, but far enough away in 1995 for great confidence not to be attached to the projection. And third, contrary to the CIA's claim that their estimates of the costs of integrated pollution control (IPC) have increased as understanding of its requirements has improved, chemical companies now expect the cost of complying with all environmental regulations over a four-year period to be only slightly more than half those they were predicting two years ago.
The radical mismatch between the CIA's claims and the reality of chemical companies' expenditures over the past three years would not matter very much except for the fact that the CIA is using the findings in its campaign to water down the impact of IPC on the chemical industry. IPC has enough credibility problems following HM Inspectorate of Pollution's lame decisions in authorising the major power stations in England and Wales (see pp 15-16 ) without the further problems that a weakening of the new regime would bring, and the CIA should think again about what that might imply for public perceptions of how adequately the chemical industry is regulated.
Sensible people in the chemical industry recognised a while ago that it needed to improve its image, and that this would not come without real improvements in environmental performance. No one disputes that these will cost money which will have to be diverted from other areas of expenditure - but neither can the CIA have it both ways. Perhaps the question to which it might more fruitfully turn its attentions is why Britain's chemical companies have cut their overall capital spending programmes over the past two years by more than those in any other EC country for which data are available.