Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 7, 2006

Chemical security bill: highway to HECC

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on August 7, 2006

The trade publication Inside EPA has a detailed report today (by subscription only) on the state of play for the chemical security bill in the House and the Senate. The story describes what chemical industry representatives see as their latest line of defense in efforts to stall or defeat the bill: the House Energy and Commerce Committee (HECC).

Industry representatives are looking to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) to stall pending chemical security legislation because they fear the bill is too stringent, ahead of what one GOP lawmaker says will be new momentum to enact security requirements as the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks draws closer.

….The bill, H.R. 5695, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, was referred jointly to the House Homeland Security Committee and the Energy & Commerce Committee. Barton is “still reviewing” the bill but may want to exert jurisdiction over the “sweeping piece of legislation” that the homeland security panel passed in order to address any concerns he or other lawmakers on the committee may have, a committee aide says.

Industry “doesn’t think IST should be in there at all,” one industry source says. The source says Barton may exercise his jurisdiction over the bill as a stalling tactic to avoid bringing it up for a floor vote this year, especially if a floor vote on the bill would split the GOP, with some Republicans, such as Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), backing IST provisions while others reject IST mandates.

The articles goes on to recount the key issues in contention in the bill, and survey the state of play in the Senate (as described in this post last week). It concludes with this somber note:

But one drinking water source says that given the GOP divisions over the bill, Frist “is not going to bring this to the floor and have a bloodbath” with a split Republican vote. The source says chemical security legislation may not progress until next year, given the hurdles it faces in both the House and Senate.

So a metaphorical “political bloodbath” potentially matters more than the real bloodbath that would occur if a chemical plant were attacked? Hopefully the leadership of the House and the Senate will be wise enough to realize that this issue should be above the politics of gamesmanship, and focus on striking a deal that delivers the needed security benefits of legislation but does not create onerous and unscientific regulation. The right compromise is one that does not mandate IST’s, but allows DHS some discretion to impose them as a last resort; and allows states to set stronger security standards, consistent with the finest traditions of federalism. This is essentially the middle ground between the current versions of the House and Senate bills today. It’s time for all parties involved, including industry, to stop acting as if this issue can be treated as business as usual, and get this done.

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