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Chemical Plant Security Bill Proposed

Senate measure would authorize the government to shut down facilities that fail to close gaps in security

by Glenn Hess
December 21, 2005

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate on Dec. 19 would require the federal government to set minimum mandatory security requirements for thousands of chemical plants nationwide.

"This bill is the most comprehensive, toughest bill that has ever been drafted in this area," said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Susan M. Collins (R-Maine).

The long-awaited bill, which is cosponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), would require chemical companies to conduct vulnerability assessments and to create security and emergency response plans for their facilities. Those plans would be submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for review, and the department would have the authority to shut down any facility that failed to implement adequate security measures.

"What we tried to avoid is telling companies exactly how to achieve those standards," Collins said.

In a notable change from an earlier draft of the legislation circulated by Collins' staff, the bill would allow governors to establish more stringent security standards for chemical plants in their states.

The American Chemistry Council, which has been urging Congress to act on plant security since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, welcomes the legislation. ACC President Jack N. Gerard said provisions in the bill granting DHS authority to require chemical facilities to assess vulnerabilities and close security gaps "are consistent with efforts undertaken by ACC members under our Responsible Care security code."

Noting that member companies have spent more than $2 billion on security improvements over the past four years, Gerard said all chemical producers should be held to the same standard. "We hope Congress can close that gap," he remarked.

Environmental activists expressed disappointment that the bill does not require chemical makers to switch to "inherently safer technologies." But Collins maintained that it would be inappropriate to dictate specific industrial processes. "This is a homeland security bill; it is not environmental legislation," she said in a statement on the Senate floor.



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