If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Plant Safety Bill Delayed In Senate

Jurisdictional dispute, fears of inherently safer technology provisions block bill

by Jeff Johnson
June 26, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 26

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee, is blocking a floor vote on chemical plant security legislation due to a jurisdictional dispute and fears that the bill may allow inherently safer technologies (IST) to be required as a means to lower the risk of a terrorist attack.

On June 15, a plant security bill, S. 2145, cleared the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee by unanimous vote. The bill would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broad authority to set security regulations for some 15,000 plants that manufacture, store, process, or sell chemicals and to penalize facilities for noncompliance.

Inhofe has now blocked the bill due to concerns that its provisions could regulate drinking water and wastewater utilities because they handle large volumes of chlorine. These facilities, he said in a June 12 letter to the Homeland Security Committee, are under the jurisdiction of his committee.

Inhofe also believes the bill contains some "back door" provisions that would allow DHS to possibly use IST as an alternative to traditional security measures-guns, guards, surveillance-according to an Inhofe aide.

Requirements for IST, such as reducing the use of explosive or toxic chemicals, are strongly opposed by the chemical industry but have been sought as a security option by several members of Congress as well as some state regulators and environmental groups.

However, IST requirements are not part of the chemical plant security bill that is on the Senate floor. Provisions that would have called for consideration of IST at "high risk" companies were introduced at the Homeland Security Committee markup but were voted down 5 to 11.

Inhofe, like the chemical industry, opposes IST and believes it should be specifically kept out of security legislation. "IST is an environmental concept that dates back more than a decade when the extremist environmental community was seeking to ban chlorine," he said at a June 21 committee hearing. "It was only after 9/11 that they decided to play upon the fears of the nation and repackage IST as a panacea to all our security problems."

A spokeswoman for Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said the senator will work quickly to resolve jurisdictional differences with Inhofe, but added that Collins was "puzzled" by his IST objections since the committee overwhelmingly defeated the IST amendment.

Twice before, a plant security bill has cleared Senate committee, but legislation has never been taken up by the full Senate. The House is expected to begin committee consideration of a plant security bill this week.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.