Who knew toilet paper could be a terrorist target?
Georgia-Pacific — which churns out 39,000 cases of Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and other brands each day at its Palatka mill south of Jacksonville — is citing homeland security issues for refusing to heed a new state law allowing employees to bring guns to work and leave them in locked vehicles.
The NRA is outraged. "The rights of over 1,000 hardworking men and women are being violated over toilet paper," the National Rifle Association's Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer screamed in an e-mail to reporters this week.
The dispute is the latest example of a company bucking the law, which the NRA worked three years to get enacted. It went into effect July 1 upon Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's signature.
Most notably, Walt Disney World in Orlando has cited an exemption inserted into the bill for businesses that handle "explosive materials." In other words, fireworks. Universal Studios in Orlando claims it is exempt because it has a public school on the property.
The law is being challenged in federal court by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other interests. During a hearing in Tallahassee last month, a judge said the law is so badly written it's "stupid." He is expected to rule this month.
Georgia-Pacific said Hammer is missing the point.
"It's not the products we produce," said spokesman Jeremy Alexander, acknowledging that toilet paper and Brawny paper towels are as innocuous a product as can be made.
The issue, he said, is the twice a month deliveries of fuel oil that arrive on a barge via a canal off the St. John's River. Each day, the mill burns up to 700 barrels of No. 6 fuel oil, also known as Bunker C oil. The mill produces 24-million tons of paper products a year.
"We are subject to Department of Homeland Security regulations," Alexander said. So protecting the oil means no guns.
"That's a lot of tissue paper," Hammer responds, artfully avoiding using a more crass term. "To suggest they are afraid a terrorist will blow up their fuel oil is ridiculous."
Georgia-Pacific points to a clause in the law (HB 503) that exempts any property upon which possession of a firearm is prohibited "pursuant to any federal law."
Because of its barge shipments, the company is governed under maritime security regulations and its facility security plan on file with the U.S. Coast Guard prohibits weapons, according to a memo employees received July 1, the day the law went into effect.
The Coast Guard on Tuesday confirmed the company has a security plan on file but would not discuss details. The same restrictions would apply to places such as the Port of Tampa.
Alexander points out that Georgia-Pacific has a few other plants in Florida and has not attempted to block the new law in those locations.