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Chemical Plant Security

Fifteen senators ask that a committee-approved bill be reworked to include federal preemption

by Lois R. Ember
July 17, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 30

With Congress unlikely to agree on a chemical plant security bill this year, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) offered an amendment to the fiscal 2007 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill that requires the DHS secretary to set interim regulations for the chemical sector until final regulations are enacted under other laws. The appropriations bill, including the Bryd amendment, passed the Senate on July 13.

Environmental organizations and representatives from the chemical industry have called the Byrd amendment a stopgap measure. Both communities are prodding Congress to pass risk-based comprehensive legislation.

The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee approved such a bill (S. 2145) on June 15. It gives DHS the authority to regulate chemical plant security but allows states to set stricter standards.

A group of 15 mainly Republican senators led by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) sent Sens. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) a letter expressing concern that certain provisions of S. 2145 "might unduly endanger communities." Collins and Lieberman are, respectively, chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee.

In their letter, the senators said the bill as reported out of committee "could make communities more vulnerable" by, among other things, "allowing the release of sensitive security information to potential terrorists." They also said the bill could disrupt "ongoing security operations" and create "an unnecessary, redundant, complex, and confusing patchwork of local, state, and federal security regulations that would provide for inconsistent levels of security across the country."

They argued that the bill has the "potential to place the U.S. chemical industry ... at a competitive disadvantage" by subjecting the industry "to new environmental regulations under the guise of security measures." They asked that their concerns be resolved before the bill is debated by the full Senate.

The senators asked the Collins-Lieberman committee to rewrite the bill's language to include a "strong" federal preemption provision that would mandate that the federal government establish a single set of national security standards that all states would have to abide by. They also called for the removal of any language in the bill that even hints at inherently safer chemicals and processes. On July 11, a House homeland security subcommittee approved a chemical plant security bill, H.R. 5695, which does not mandate inherently safer technology.

Greenpeace spokesman Rick Hind's response to the senators: "To paraphrase former president Ronald Reagan, 'There they go again.' In September 2002, some of the same senators used a similar letter to kill chemical security legislation."



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