On July 28th, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted to allow high risk chemical plants to continue to use unsafe chemical processes and to not force chemical plants identified as high risk to evaluate safer chemical processes. Over 110 million Americans could remain at risk of chemical disasters for the next three years.
The unanimous vote in the committee for legislation sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would extend current law for three years and allows for business-as-usual at 4997 chemical plants. Just 300 of the chemical plants together put 110 million Americans at risk in 41 states. Nine years after 9-11, the U.S. Senate has failed to remove the crosshairs from some of the nation’s most vulnerable and deadly terrorist targets.
Like the current law, the Collins bill:
-Prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from requiring any specific “security measure” whatsoever.
-Fails 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 exempts 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.
The committee membership is comprised of Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Susan M. Collins (R-ME), Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Scott Brown (R-MA), Thomas R. Carper (R-DE), John McCain (R-AZ), Mark L. Pryor (D-AR), George V. Voinovich (R-OH), Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), John Ensign (R-NV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roland Burris (D-IL) and Edward E. Kaufman (D-DE).
Next week, Sen. Boxer (D-CA) and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may mark up Sen. Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) water security bill (S. 3598), which ensures disaster prevention legislation for 2,400 drinking water and waste water facilities. The bill is supported by over 100 groups in blue-green coalition that including the United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, Teamsters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Greenpeace.
“It’s clear that the Senators voting for the Collins bill today would rather wait for a disaster before they will lift a finger to prevent one. The Collins bill, like current law, not only fails to require disaster prevention at the highest risk chemical plants, it continues to exempt all 2,400 drinking water and waste water facilities and all 500 port facilities,” said, Rick Hind, legislative director at Greenpeace. “The Collins bill is nothing more than a poison pill strategy on behalf of the chemical lobby to kill comprehensive chemical security legislation for the ninth year in a row.”
Without any supporting data, industry opponents and their congressional allies have asserted that even a conditional requirement to convert high-risk plants to safer chemical processes would cost jobs or hurt businesses. To address this issue, Greenpeace contracted Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI) to do an independent analysis of the House passed bill. MISI does similar assessments for industry groups.
Contrary to industry claims, the MISI analysis 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.” The two sectors of the economy that MISI says will benefit the most are the chemical industry and state and local governments.