The trade publication Water Policy Report (subscription req’d) has a lengthy story this week on the state of chemical security legislation. The story notes disagreement between DHS and the EPA over who should have authority on this issue, an issue brought to light most recently in last week’s GAO report.
The article provides an update on the likely timeline for a markup of S. 2145, the chemical security legislation sponsored by Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT):
The debate over the agency’s role may be aired during upcoming Senate deliberations over the issue. According to a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel plans to hold a markup “as soon as possible” on S. 2145, a bill she introduced last December that would require DHS to force security measures on chemical plants it designates as risky based on EPA Clean Air Act data and other criteria.
While the Collins bill would not explicitly impose inherently safer technology rules on plants, it gives DHS the latitude to determine whether such requirements are necessary. EPA does not have a role under the bill.
And the article discusses alternative legislation put forward last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) that takes a harder line on the “safer chemicals” issue:
Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) joined Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in offering last week a chemical security bill that would give EPA a chemical security role. Since Lautenberg sits on Collins’ committee, the new Democratic bill could be used as a benchmark for negotiations with Collins.
Observers believe the timing of the Democrats’ bill is both an effort to pressure Congress to strengthen the Collins bill and could draw attention in an election year to the fact that the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress have failed to impose mandates on the industry even though security experts have highlighted the sector as a major terrorist target. Obama told reporters Feb. 28 that there was “definitely a connection” between introducing the bill last week and the recent flap over port security that erupted after the Bush administration planned to allow an Arab-owned company to oversee key operations at American ports.
Obama said ineffective security standards underscore a lack of apparent urgency from the majority Republican party and administration on these issues. “The 9/11 Commission graded port security as well as chemical plant security in the D category,” he said. “Maybe we can’t get an A, but we can get a B.”
If this new Lautenberg-Obama bill helps move the Collins-Lieberman legislation forward more quickly, then that’s great, but I think the reality is that the final legislation will look a lot like the latter bill, which itself represents an attempt to strike a feasible compromise between the chemical industry and environmental groups. Hopefully we’ll see steady progress on this issue in the coming months. Sec. Chertoff told Congress last week that he supports legislation, and DHS is touting the funding for a new chemical security office in the FY 2007 request . The House does not yet have a bipartisan bill, but perhaps the Fossella bill (H.R. 1562) and the Pallone bill (H.R. 2237) can serve as starting points for compromise legislation. Time is of the essence.