Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 20, 2006

Chemical security showdown in the Senate

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 20, 2006

A story by Eric Lipton in Thursday’s New York Times provides a good summary of the current showdown in Congress over the inclusion of chemical security language in the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill. The article links to letters sent to Sen. Judd Gregg by a group of Republican Senators and a group of Democratic Senators that offer opposing positions on this debate.

The article succintly describes the chemical industry’s proposal for legislative language:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would have been authorized to establish regulations requiring security measures, but the regulations would have applied only to a sliver of facilities that manufacture, use or store toxic chemicals and that are deemed to have the “highest levels of security risk.” Mr. Chertoff would not have had the power to shut down plants not in compliance.

The proposal would also have left decisions about security plans entirely up to these high-risk plants.

There can be a principled disagreement in this debate over whether DHS should be allowed to mandate inherently safer technologies (ISTs) – I’m against a strong mandate, but think they should be an option as a last resort if other security measures are inadequate. And there can be a principled disagreement over whether states should have the right to have stronger regulations – something that I support consistent with our nation’s tradition of federalism.

But for the chemical industry to put forward a proposal that gives DHS such weak authority, including zero authority to shut down a plant after an extreme security violation, is ludicrous. It confirms all of my suspicions over the last six months regarding the chemical industry’s lack of seriousness – and to be quite frank, their lack of patriotism – in this debate. I hope that serious-minded Senators – including homeland security committee chairs Collins and King – stick to their guns, and demand legislation that can deliver needed security dividends, instead of this sham proposal.

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