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.