From the New York Times editorial page today, a resolute critique of the current legislative endgame on chemical security:
Congress still has done nothing to protect Americans from a terrorist attack on chemical plants. Republican leaders want to give the impression that that has changed. But voters should not fall for the spin. If the leadership goes through with the strategy it seems to have adopted last week to secure these highly vulnerable targets, national security will be the loser.
The federal government is spending extraordinary amounts of money and time protecting air travel from terrorist attacks. But Congress has not yet passed a law to secure the nationâ€™s chemical plants, even though an attack on just one plant could kill or injure as many as 100,000 people. The sticking point has been the chemical industry, a heavy contributor to political campaigns, which does not want to pay the cost of reasonable safety measures.
The Senate and the House spent many months carefully developing bipartisan chemical plant security bills. Both measures were far too weak, but they would have finally imposed real safety requirements on the chemical industry. The Republican leadership in Congress blocked both bills from moving forward. Instead, whatever gets done about chemical plant security will apparently be decided behind closed doors, and inserted as a rider to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill.
It is outrageous that something as important as chemical plant security is being decided in a back-room deal. It is regrettable that Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, the chairwoman of the committee that produced the Senate bill, does not carry enough influence with her own partyâ€™s leadership to get a strong chemical plant security bill passed. The deal itself, the likely details of which have emerged in recent days, is a near-complete cave-in to industry, and yet more proof that when it comes to a choice between homeland security and the desires of corporate America, the Republican leadership always goes with big business.
I disagree with the point that the Senate HSGAC and House HSC were too weak – I thought that they were within the target zone – but other than, that is fair critique of what we’ve seen emerge over the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, Reuters provides additional details on the Republican-led deal on this issue in a story tonight, noting that there has been moderate pushback on some of the worst provisions of the industry language (e.g. giving DHS the authority to shutdown plants) – but is still quite weak, essentially codifying the dangerous laissez faire attitude that has prevailed since 9/11 on chemical plant security.