Senators View on Chemical Security

09/27/06 in Government Initiatives News

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Senators Obama, Lautenberg Say Chemical Plant Security Legislation is Far too Weak, Fails to Protect Millions of Americans

WASHINGTON - At a news conference today, United States Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) - authors of the Chemical Security and Safety Act - blasted weak provisions negotiated behind closed doors between Republican leaders and the Bush administration that fail to provide adequate security at chemical facilities nationwide. The industry-friendly language is included in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report that the Senate is likely to approve on by the end of the week.

"Republican leaders borrowed a page from the 'Dick Cheney Energy Task Force' playbook: bolt the windows, shut the doors and meet with industry lobbyists," Senator Lautenberg said. "This is a counterfeit bill designed by chemical industry lobbyists and put forth by Republican lawmakers."

"The sad truth is that this legislation does far more to protect chemical industry interests than it does to protect the millions of Americans who would be at risk if terrorists were to attack a chemical plant," said Senator Obama. "Our inability to secure these sites is one of our greatest security failures since the September 11th attacks."

On Monday night, the Appropriations Committee approved the Homeland Security Appropriations conference report with weak chemical security provisions negotiated in private between Republicans, the Bush administration and the chemical industry. Democrats were excluded from the negotiations.

In March 2006, Lautenberg and Obama introduced a chemical security bill that required chemical facilities to adopt Inherently Safer Technology (IST), which would require facilities to use safer chemicals or processes whenever feasible. The bill also included protections for wastewater treatment and drinking water treatment facilities, and makes clear that state and local governments are not preempted from adopting chemical security protections stronger than federal law. Similar provisions are not included in the plan the Senate will vote on later this week as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill.

The problems in the DHS Appropriations Conference Report dealing with chemical plant security are:

  • There is no clear statement that states retain the authority to adopt stronger chemical security measures than what is adopted at the federal level;
  • There is no requirement for any chemical facility, including those most at risk, to consider switching to safer chemicals (inherently safer technologies (IST));
  • DHS is prohibited from requiring any specific security measure from being adopted;
  • Automatically exempts thousands of chemical plants from any regulations unless the DHS considers them "high risk" and specifically exempts approximately 3,000 drinking water and waste water facilities as well as chemical plants covered under the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA).
  • The number of facilities to be regulated is left to the discretion of the Secretary, but can only be those deemed to be the highest risk, which could conceivably number approximately 300, out of the 15,000 facilities currently required to prepare risk management plans under the Clean Air Act;
  • Their plan sets no deadlines by which DHS must approve or disapprove plant security plans
  • No requirement that workers be included in the development of vulnerability assessments or plans
  • No protection for whistleblowers who disclose security risks at chemical facilities.