Industry Voices Concern With Bill | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 11, 2008

Industry Voices Concern With Bill

Chemical makers say House measure would allow government to dictate industrial processes
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Homeland Security
Credit: American Chemistry Council
Credit: American Chemistry Council
Credit: SOCMA
Credit: SOCMA

Chemical industry officials are expressing concern over antiterrorism legislation passed by the House Homeland Security Committee on March 6 that would allow federal officials to force some facilities to stop manufacturing hazardous chemicals.

The Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008 would create a law giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) permanent authority to regulate security at the nation's chemical plants and other facilities that use or store hazardous chemicals. The measure is designed to replace a temporary chemical facility security statute, which will expire in October 2009.

The legislation, crafted by Democrats on the homeland security panel, would expand the existing law's scope to cover some 3,000 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. It would also allow state and local governments to establish their own chemical security requirements provided that those regulations do not directly clash with the national standards.

But the most controversial provisions in the legislation would require an estimated 30,000 facilities to review their manufacturing processes and uses of various chemicals to determine whether the consequences of a terrorist attack could be reduced by switching to safer chemicals or production methods.

As many as 8,000 facilities considered at high risk for terrorist attack could be directed by DHS to adopt these so-called inherently safer technologies (IST) or face a court-ordered shutdown.

Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Chemistry Council, which represents 134 of the nation's biggest chemical companies, says the bill incorporates many of the security measures already being implemented under the interim chemical security regulations issued by DHS in April 2007 (C&EN, April 9, 2007, page 13).

"Our primary concern, however, is that certain provisions in the bill will divert the focus away from security and, instead, place DHS in the position of mandating changes to chemical processes and products," Gerard says. "These complex decisions should be kept in the hands of industry experts who must consider a host of factors, not just security, when evaluating such changes to avoid unintended consequences."

Joseph G. Acker, president of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, which represents nearly 300 batch, custom, and specialty chemical makers, says his group also supports making chemical site security standards a permanent and enforceable law under the jurisdiction of DHS. "We are, however, stridently opposed to the merits of mandating IST under the guise of site security and as a panacea for fighting terrorism," he says.

Including an IST requirement in security legislation "only advances the political agenda of special interests that want to curtail or eliminate products and decrease the competitiveness of U.S. chemical manufacturing," Acker asserts.

Environmental groups contend that the IST provision could save thousands of lives. "By using safer chemicals to replace obsolete poison gases, a U.S. chemical plant could no longer be turned into a weapon of mass destruction," says Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace USA's toxics campaign.

The legislation now goes to the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the issue, for review and possible changes. No companion bill has yet been introduced in the Senate.

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