US News has a good synopsis of the state of play on the Hill for the chemical security bill in its latest issue. The article is notable for DHS officials’ frank admission that the self-regulatory approach is insufficient:
Robert Stephan, a DHS assistant secretary who oversees chemical facilities, says a small minority of plants won’t let DHS officials on their premises and many more prohibit them from leaving with any written notes. The American Chemistry Council, the leading industry group, says its 2,000 chemical facilities have invested nearly $3 billion in security since 9/11 to adhere to an industry-developed set of voluntary security measures. But Sal DePasquale, a former security official with Georgia-Pacific Corp., who helped craft the code, calls it “window dressing.” He says investments in cameras, fencing, and network security are “a sorry joke” compared with the highly armed teams that guard nuclear plants. DHS estimates 20 percent of the roughly 300 highest-risk plants aren’t even signed up for a voluntary program.
The article also reiterates earlier commentary that two key points of contention when the bill is brought up in committee next month will be the language pertaining to the use of safer, substitute chemicals, and the question of whether states are allowed to set tougher standards than the federal government.
My take is that the current language in the bill – flexible for industry on the safer chemicals issue, but allowing states to set tougher standards – is a fair and sensible compromise that will substantial improve chemical security. It’s time for all involved parties to put the national interest over their narrow self-interest. Any further efforts to meddle with this bill and delay its passage put the nation at grave and unnecessary risk.
The clock is ticking.