House Subcommittee Punts on Closing Security Gaps and Disaster Prevention Until 2018

 In a party-line vote a Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee adopted a bill (H.R. 901) that would extend a temporary appropriations “rider” until 2018. The Subcommittee also rejected three amendments to close major security gaps, implement disaster prevention measures and include employees in security planning.

“Today Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) and fellow Republicans voted to gamble with the lives of millions of Americans. More than 100 million Americans live in the shadow of high risk chemical plants. A terrorist attack or accident at these plants could release poison gases that can kill or injure thousands of people within 30 minutes. Lungren’s bill punts on closing security gaps and disaster prevention until at least 2018.” said Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace.

At the Homeland Security Committee’s February 11th hearing on chemical security, the Department of Homeland Security formally asked Congress for authority to close these security gaps and prevent chemical disasters where safer chemical processes are feasible and cost effective.

In the Senate, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation (S.709 & S.711) on March 31st which will correct all of these fatal flaws in the current law. “For less than half the $784 million cut in Homeland Security’s 2011 budget, the Lautenberg legislation would help high risk chemical plants that today put millions of Americans at risk to become plants that put no one at risk. Lautenberg’s program will also create jobs, stimulate the local economy and eliminate billions of dollars of liability,” said Hind.

Like the current law, H.R. 901:

  • Prohibits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from requiring any specific “security measure.”
  • Fails to require safer and more secure chemical processes that can cost-effectively prevent terrorists from triggering chemical disasters.
  • 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.
  • Fails to allow participation of plant employees in assessing vulnerabilities and developing security plans.

In 2006 Congress passed temporary legislation to give Congress time to enact a comprehensive statute. The Department of Homeland Security issued interim rules called the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). CFATS is based on a 744 word “rider” attached to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act in 2006. H.R. 901 merely extends CFATS for seven more years without closing any security gaps or loopholes in the current law and perpetuates needless risks to millions of Americans.

As discussed in today’s mark up, Representative Lungren and the Homeland Security Committee adopted disaster prevention legislation (H.R. 5695) in July 2006. That bill became the model for H.R. 2868 which passed the House of Representatives in November 2009. H.R.2868 would have closed the security gaps in current law, conditionally required the highest risk plants to use safer chemical processes, included employees in assessing security vulnerabilities and developing security plans and created a comprehensive security program.

Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI) conducted an independent analysis of H.R. 2868 concluding that it would create 8,000 new jobs and stimulate local economies. The two sectors of the economy that would benefit most from the bill were the chemical industry and state and local governments:

*** On April 6th Greenpeace presented Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) with 22,400 letters from people across the country urging him to support disaster prevention legislation.

*** DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano 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…”

*** 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.”

*** Dow Chemical 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.

*** 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:

*** A blue-green coalition of more than 100 organizations is urging Congress to enact disaster prevention legislation (S.709 & S.711). They include: the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Teamsters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Greenpeace.

*** Based on industry reports to the EPA, a Center for American Progress report shows how 300 chemical plants together put 110 million Americans at risk.  “The only certain way to protect our communities is to remove the possibility of a toxic gas release by converting facilities to safer, more secure alternative technologies.”

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