Chemical Security Bills Fail To Remove Nation’s Chemical Plants From Terror Targets

On March 4,  Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Representatives Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Timothy Murphy (R-PA) introduced three chemical security bills. These bills extend a flawed temporary law for three and seven years respectively earning them the support of chemical industry lobbyists. The temporary law was enacted in 2006 to give Congress time to enact a comprehensive program. It is far from comprehensive and leaves more than 100 million Americans at risk of chemical disasters in 41 states.

“These bills are belated Valentines to the chemical industry and are an irresponsible distraction from a long overdue comprehensive security program,” said Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace. “This legislation fails to require any disaster prevention at the highest risk chemical plants and continues to exempt hundreds of hazardous refineries and water treatment plants.”

The Collins, Lungren, and Murphy bills, like the current law:

  • Prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from requiring any specific “security measure” whatsoever.
  • Fail to develop the commonsense use of smart security or safer and more secure chemical processes that can cost-effectively prevent terrorists from triggering chemical disasters.
  • Explicitly exempt thousands of potentially high risk chemical and port facilities, including approximately 2,400 water treatment facilities and 400-600 port facilities including 125 of 150 U.S. refineries.
  • Perpetuates risk shifting of hazardous chemicals to unguarded railroad sites. All of the security measures of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) do nothing to protect chemicals shipped outside the plant fence line. Only by changing to safer, more secure operations can facilities remove the need to transport extremely hazardous substances.
  • Excludes knowledgeable employees from site security planning and site inspections. Adding these elements would add integrity to the program.
  • Are wholly inadequate and unenforceable. In a February 11th hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee the DHS admitted that they failed to meet their goal of inspecting the highest risk chemical facilities by the end of 2010.  And in their guidance on CFATS’ “risk based performance standards” the DHS emphasized that any security measures listed are “neither mandatory nor necessarily the preferred solution.”

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is expected to introduce comprehensive chemical plant security legislation based on bills he authored in 2010 (S. 3598 & S. 3599) which would eliminate catastrophic risks to millions of Americans, create thousands of new jobs and provide economic stimulus to local governments. The Lautenberg legislation is based on the compromise bill (H.R. 2868) adopted by the House of Representatives November 6, 2009.

Without any supporting data, opponents of disaster prevention legislation have asserted that conditional requirements to use safer chemical processes would cost jobs. Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI) conducted an independent analysis of the House passed Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868) which found that: “The gross jobs impact attributable to the legislative initiative is forecast to stay at around 8,000 every year through 2020…In summary, the analysis suggests that H.R. 2868 will have a slight positive impact on the U.S. economy and a small increase in net employment nationwide. In addition, the legislation will place thousands of employees and millions of U.S. residents in a vastly safer environment.”

MISI found that the two sectors of the economy that would benefit the most from the House passed bill are the chemical industry and state and local governments.  Summary and full report:

*** The Lautenberg legislation will:

  • Conditionally require the highest risk plants to use safer chemical processes where feasible and cost-effective, and require the remaining high risk plants to “assess” safer chemical processes;
  • Prohibit the shifting of risks from one plant to another location
  • Eliminate the current law’s exemption of 2,400 water treatment plants and 500 port facilities (including 125 refineries);
  • Involve plant employees in the development of security plans and provide protections for whistleblowers and limit background check abuses;
  • Preserve states’ authority to establish stronger security standards;
  • Provide $525 million per year in funding for conversion of chemical plants, drinking water facilities, and wastewater facilities, and;
  • Allow citizen suits to enforce government implementation of the law.

*** On February 24th ABC News reported on the hazards posed by U.S. refineries:

*** On July 7, 2010 Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told a joint conference of industry and agency personnel that, “we support the idea of industry’s use of safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals, where possible, to enhance security.”

*** The Association of American Railroads has also called for disaster prevention saying, “It’s time for the big chemical companies to do their part to help protect America. They should stop manufacturing dangerous chemicals when safer substitutes are available.  And if they won’t do it, Congress should do it for them…”

*** In November 2009, the Clorox Company announced plans to convert all of their U.S. facilities from ultra-hazardous chlorine gas to liquid bleach to “strengthen our operations and add another layer of security,” according to their CEO Don Knauss. Clorox also indicated that these changes “won’t affect the size of the company’s workforce.”

*** In December 2008, Dow announced a partnership with K2 Pure Solutions that will eliminate the chlorine gas risks at their Pittsburgh, CA plant and create 40 permanent jobs and approximately 300 construction jobs.

*** At least 500 facilities have already made the switch eliminating these hazards to 40 million Americans. The converted plants are both public and private – including water facilities, utilities, refineries – and often yield cost savings. For a list of 500+ success stories:

*** In addition, a blue-green coalition of 100 organizations is urging Congress to enact comprehensive chemical security legislation. They include: the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Teamsters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Greenpeace.

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