The American Chemistry Council and George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute co-hosted an event in DC on the issue of chemical security, which featured Sec. Chertoff as a speaker followed by a panel session.
Chertoff began his talk by challenging Congress to pass a chemical security bill this year, and enunciating core principles that he wants to see in a bill, including a risk management approach, outcomes-based performance standards, and incentives to reward those who have invested in security. He broached the idea of independent third-parties in the private sector carrying out security validation activities, following the model of accounting firms that audit public companies. And he indicated that he was generally opposed to the mandatory inclusion of “safer technologies” for chemical security and was reluctant to allow states to set higher security standards. This last point is his primary area of divergence with the Collins-Lieberman legislation that has been defining the terms of the debate in Congress over the last few months; I expect that this issue will be heavily contested as the bill moves forward.
The one newsworthy takeaway from the panel session was the fact that Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) have introduced H.R. 4999, the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006” as a companion bill to Collins-Lieberman, which according to a staffer on the panel was exactly identical to the Collins-Lieberman bill.
I’ve been a strong proponent of the need for legislative action on chemical security, and I’ve stated on this site since December that the Collins-Lieberman bill is sensible legislation that requires all parties to make compromises and can deliver the level of security that we need. I don’t really give a damn about the issues of “safer chemicals” or allowing state governments to set higher standards, except to the extent that a failure to compromise on these issues unnecessarily delays needed improvements to security, as has already been the case for 3-4 years now. I walked away from the event feeling less confident about whether the key parties are actually ready to actually make these compromises, or whether they would rather hold out for legislation that meets more or all of their key demands. Hopefully my gut intuition is wrong here, and we will instead see a sensible compromise in the weeks ahead and a bill signed into law in the next few months. Any failure to move forward on this legislation is unacceptably dangerous for our national security.