Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 25, 2006

NY Times editorial on chemical security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Infrastructure Protection — by Christian Beckner on September 25, 2006

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 nation’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 party’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.

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3 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 26, 2006 @ 5:37 am

This controversy has turned into an epic battle but reflects the fact that first principles were never developed or the subject of analysis in the homeland security arena. In this case, left to raw political power to determine the outcome just as raw political power determined that the airlines would largely be subsidized by the taxpayer not the users for the security needs of air travelers. No good analysis exists of the SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) of the industries that have won subsidies from the taxpayer since 9/11 for security. As a result, if the pot of taxpayer money for security is finite then how can there be any rationale allocation based on criticality to the American economy. I am not an economist but the game in Washington is to get your subsidy from Uncle Sam and then protect it and hide it from effective oversight. Note how few Congressional hearings have been held on either airline security or chemical plant security. Again tradeoffs are being made! How much does an aircraft carrier cost and how many new ones are on the ways? How much does a Raptor cost and how many will be produced? The chemical industry operates in a remarkably hidden fashion with few of their new “finds” subject to even listing on the Toxic Registry much less studied for impacts. I live in a rural area but wonder how much of the subsidy to the agricultural sector is almost a direct pass-through to the chemical industry. Basic statistics and analysis are prohibited politically by both parties so it is no wonder that cogent arguments about security get lost in the milieu of politics. This dispute over security vis a vis public expenditure versus private expenditure deserves very careful documentation. Exactly how many of the Directors and Chief Executives and COOs of the chemical industry live within the contamination range of a plant subject to not industrial mishap but intentional attack? How much money has been spent to avoid federal security standards for chemical plants? How much effort is going into making sure that new plants or new investment reflects security issues? Perhaps again the US will get lucky and the terrorist strike will be elsewhere.

Comment by Reginald Tavernia

August 6, 2010 @ 12:19 am

You have done a marvellous job by exploring this subject with such an honesty and depth. Thanks for sharing it with us! They sigh, make rude comments and let their anger manifest in some incredibly rude manners.

Comment by HISTORY DETECTIVE

September 3, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

They can’t even provide us with egg security. Worse than worthless. First thing, we kill all the chickens. It’ll be interesting. Then we can commit the pigs. They won’t have a defense or a need for a defense. One question, head or chest? It’s cold.

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