The full House Homeland Security Committee (HSC) passed H.R. 5695, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, last Friday before leaving town for the August recess. Stories in GovExec and the Bergen (NJ) Record provide a solid rundown of the markup. The bill contains language which would allow DHS to mandate inherently safer technologies in certain extreme instances (and with review) as well as language that makes clear that states would be allowed to set stronger standards. Overall, these seem like sensible security-focused compromises.
These developments apparently took chemical industry lobbyists by surprise, according to a subscription-only story in CQ today, which also suggests that industry leaders are now looking more fondly at the Collins-Lieberman bill that they had fought so hard (with partial success) to water down, and then did nothing to stop Sen. Inhofe from blocking. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association issued a press release on Monday bashing the House’s bill.
Why did the Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee decide to pass a bill that contradicts the wishes of the chemical industry? Perhaps it has something to do with the political vulnerability of many House Republicans in this election season. The parts of the country (Northeast, upper Midwest) where chemical plants are concentrated are also the areas where Republicans are facing particularly tough races, compounding this vulnerability. This issue could become a real liability for Republican candidates if they are seen to be blocking sensible legislation that would improve the security of millions of people. The Democrats in Congress apparently sense opportunity on this issue, as witnessed by Sen. Schumer’s events in upstate NY on chemical security last week.
Perhaps this dynamic increases the likelihood of the passage of sensible chemical security legislation in this session of Congress. If that’s what it takes to get the job done, then so be it. The important thing is to get a bill signed into law that addresses this long-standing vulnerability in our nation’s security.