Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 24, 2006

Chemical security loses momentum

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on May 24, 2006

The issue of chemical plant security has fallen out of the spotlight in the last month, after receiving a lot of attention in late March and early April, following Sec. Chertoff’s speech on 3/21 on the topic. On the legislative front, Rep. Sabo (D-MN) was able to add language to the House Appropriations bill that provides “the Secretary the authority to issue an interim final rule regarding chemical facility security.” But S. 2145, the comprehensive and bipartisan chemical security legislation sponsored by Sen. Collins and Sen. Lieberman seems to have lost momentum, and the legislative window for passing it this year is narrowing by the day. The same thing is true for the companion legislation in the House.

Meanwhile, there have been a few developments in the policy debate on chemical security in recent weeks. The Center for American Progress released a report in April entitled “Preventing Toxic Terrorism: How Some Chemical Facilities are Removing Danger to American Communities,” which attempts to refute the notion that forcing chemical facilities to switch to inherently-safer technologies is too difficult or onerous. The Heritage Foundation released its “Congressional Checklist for Chemical Security” last week, which provides a set of recommendations very close to the DHS perspective on chemical security issues, and contains some positive new recommendations; for example, harmonizing chemical security regulation with MTSA. And this week, the New Jersey Work Environment Council released a report that profiles the risks in New Jersey from attacks or accidents at the state’s chemical plants. The report is summarized in this Philadelphia Inquirer story.

But overall, I think that the attention to this issue has waned, and as a result I’m feeling less optimistic about the prospect of passing meaningful chemical security legislation than I was 2-3 months ago. Instead of spending time on this legislation, the Senate is preparing to waste its precious floor time next month on divisive and tertiary issues like flag burning and gay marriage amendments. The opportunity cost of this decision is clear: a decreased chance of debating and passing meaningful chemical security (and port security) legislation. The bottom line: If Congress fails to address these important and timely homeland security issues this year, then it is abandoning its responsibilities and putting the American people at unnecessary risk.

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2 Comments »

Comment by Wade Whitlock

May 25, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

Figures. This requirement is in the Risk Management Program in 40CFR and the OSHA Process Safety Plan in 29 CFR. There is a requirement to perform a Process Hazard Analysis and guess what? Anyone doing a PHA should have included security if they were properly paranoid! This EPA reg was a requirement of the Clean Air Act as Amended 1990 and should have been implemented in 1996. There is a 5 year manditory review.

There has been no significant enforcement of the requirement to protect on-site personnel and off-site populations and the environment. What did you expect?

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » New CRS report on chemical security bills

June 2, 2006 @ 6:42 pm

[…] I’m agnostic on the relative merits of the two bills – my bottom line at this point is getting any substantive bill passed, and both of these past muster. Unfortunately, as I noted last week, the prospects of passing legislation this year are dimming – and meanwhile, Sen. Frist is preparing to use the Senate’s scarce floor time for divisive dross with no chance of passage next week. If there were no other pressing issues on the Senate’s agenda, then fine; but using floor time in this way when sensible chemical security (and port security) legislation is languishing is deeply irresponsible. […]

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