Americans Left at Risk of Chemical Disaster

The Republican led House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted legislation pushed by the chemical and oil industries that would extend a flawed temporary chemical security law until 2018, and leave more than 100 million Americans at risk of chemical disasters in 41 states. Instead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have repeatedly asked Congress for legislation that would reduce these risks.

Representative Gene Green (D-TX) and four other Democrats voted with Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), John Shimkus (R-IL), Joe Barton (R-TX), and other Committee Republicans in support of H.R. 908, ignoring a blue-green coalition of 84 unions, environmental and health organizations representing millions of American workers and concerned citizens that oppose the bill. A letter detailing the groups’ opposition to the bill was delivered to Energy and Commerce Committee members this week. [1]

“We can make Texas chemical plants and refineries much safer for neighboring communities and without breaking the bank,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas, “We’re disappointed that Congressman Green put big profits for industry over the health and safety of Texas families.”

Many of the most dangerous chemical facilities and oil refineries in the United States threaten people in Representative Gene Green’s Houston district, including sixteen facilities that each put more than a million people at risk of a chemical disaster. [2] Nationwide, 91 facilities each put more than a million people at risk, according to the facilities’ own reports to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Dangerous chemical and oil facilities in Congressman Gene Green’s district put millions of Texans at risk of a toxic disaster,” said Ryan Rittenhouse, Organizer with Public Citizen in Texas. “Yet today he voted to protect the interests of chemical and oil industry lobbyists instead of the health and safety of Houstonians.”

“The only constituents who will benefit from H.R. 908 are the chemical, oil and gas companies that gave Committee members campaign cash,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director. Since 2006 Rep. Green has taken $343,888 from chemical, oil and gas interests, more than any other Committee member – Democrat or Republican – except Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK). [3]

H.R. 908 extends the current temporary law until 2018, which was enacted in 2006 to give Congress time to pass a comprehensive security program. At 740 words it is far from comprehensive and fatally flawed because it:

  • Bars any security measures including safer chemical processes from being required at the highest risk plants even where feasible. – The bill (H.R.2868) which passed the House in 2009 eliminated this prohibition as the DHS and EPA requested.
  • Perpetuates the security gap for approximately 2,400 water treatment and 400 port facilities including the majority of U.S. refineries. – H.R. 2868 closed this security gap as the DHS and EPA requested.
  • Perpetuates largely voluntary programs and does nothing to prevent the shifting of catastrophic hazards from one community to another community. – H.R. 2868 prohibited any shifting of risks from one location to another.

In 2009 the Energy & Commerce Committee along with the entire House of Representatives adopted H.R. 2868 which would have allowed the DHS and EPA to require the use of safer chemical processes to prevent chemical disasters by terrorism or accidents.

Opponents of disaster prevention legislation claim that it will cost jobs. However, Management Information Services, Inc. analyzed H.R. 2868 which passed the House in 2009 and found it would create 8,000 new jobs benefiting the chemical and municipal water treatment sectors the most. [4]

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