Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 10, 2006

Chemical security legislation: compromise or gamesmanship?

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on April 10, 2006

The trade publication Inside EPA has a good article (by subscription only) out today surveying the landscape for chemical security legislation in the coming months. The article outlines the plans for the Collins-Lieberman bill to move forward to markup in May, and describes the different forces pulling on this compromise legislation – the Lautenberg-Obama bill pulling the debate in one direction, and the chemical industry (with Sen. Voinovich) pulling it in the other direction. From the article:

Industry sources say that if Collins chooses to back the Voinovich approach, she will likely win Bush administration support for the measure, and may be able to win increased Republican support and floor time in the House and Senate. But a bill that resembles the Republican plan would likely leave the party open to criticism from Democrats in an election year that the legislation caters to industry and fails to secure a major domestic vulnerability.

Sources say the vote is likely to be close in the committee, with Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) likely to support the Democratic plan. Sens. John Warner (R-VA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), who represent key swing votes, could determine which of the three competing plans wins the most support in a final committee bill.

But sources on both sides of the issue say Collins may have enough votes to win committee approval. However, they say floor prospects may be dimmer because it is unclear whether a majority of Senate Republicans back the plan.

Voinovich, who sits on the panel, has circulated draft chemical security legislation that embraces the two most crucial industry positions, lobbyists who have reviewed the draft say. The plan is silent on the issue of forcing industry to implement inherently safer technologies to reduce chemical plant risks and includes language preempting state rules, two aspects that Homeland Security chief Chertoff supports.

In a different era we might have the luxury of moving this bill forward at a sedate pace. We don’t have that luxury now. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the fact that all parties can’t accept the Collins-Lieberman bill as an acceptable compromise and get on with it. This debate has dragged on for year after year. Every day that we don’t have an effective chemical security regime in place is a dangerous throw of the dice. It’s time for all involved parties – the chemical industry, environmental groups, DHS, congress, etc.- to stop playing this as a “not give an inch” game, do the responsible thing for our nation’s security, and pass the compromise Collins-Lieberman bill expeditiously.

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