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Plant Security

Congress grants DHS authority to develop chemical plant antiterrorism protections

by Jeff Johnson
October 2, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 40

A stop-gap measure giving the Department of Homeland Security authority to develop and oversee a chemical plant security program was approved last week by House and Senate leaders.

The measure was attached to the DHS fiscal 2007 appropriations bill, which was expected to clear Congress late last week. The security provisions are far weaker than approaches in other bills debated since Sept. 11, 2001. Although stronger legislation cleared committees, no such bill reached the House or Senate floor.

The measure gives DHS near absolute authority over plant security, but that power ends in three years—enough time, congressional supporters say, to pass a comprehensive bill.

House and Senate Republicans heralded the measure as a step forward, and the American Chemistry Council said it was "not perfect but a fair compromise." However, several Senate Democrats and environmental groups said the provisions will simply allow DHS to rubber-stamp ACC's plant security program.

The provisions call for DHS within six months to issue interim chemical plant security regulations establishing "risk-based performance standards." Vulnerability assessments and security plans are required, but no standards are set. DHS is left to determine what companies are included and what they must do.

Security information will not be made public, and the decision to release information to state or local officials, including police and fire departments, is left to DHS. The measure is silent on inherently safer technology requirements, and it is unclear if state chemical plant security laws will be preempted by DHS's oversight.

The measure gives DHS enforcement authority but lacks standards for plant audits and inspections. Before DHS can order compliance, it must notify the company in writing and then consult with the company.


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