TRI Restoration Bill Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 10-9 to approve the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (S. 595) on July 31. The act would reverse a December 2006 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule change to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) that significantly reduced toxic release reporting requirements for polluting facilities.

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Baltimore Calls on Congress for More Chemical Security

On July 16, the Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting federal chemical security legislation that would require, when feasible, the use of safer chemicals and technologies.

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Setback on Chemical Security

The effort to establish stronger chemical security measures suffered a significant setback the week of May 21 with the loss of a provision from the Iraq supplemental spending bill that would have prohibited the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from preempting state law on matters of chemical security. In order to galvanize support for comprehensive chemical security reform, a group of public interest and environmental organizations wrote to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. The letter encouraged the members to continue their work on ensuring strong chemical security protections.

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Department of Homeland Security Finalizes Chemical Security Program

On April 2, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized interim chemical security regulations. The final regulations are an improvement over the proposed regulations issued in December 2006, but many weaknesses remain. In particular, DHS modified its broad interpretation of a provision regarding state preemption but did not adequately establish that states can develop rules stronger than the federal ones. The final rules do little to allay concerns regarding the lack of public accountability and access to information or the failure to require consideration of inherently safer technologies by facilities reporting to DHS.

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Journalist Audit Underscores Lack of Transparency

An audit by journalist groups found that public access to Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans (CERP), as required by law, was inconsistent and unreliable around the country. Only 44 percent of the requests for the CERP were granted in full, whereas 20 percent were partially released and 36 percent were completely denied.

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DHS Receives Mixed Opinions on Proposed Chemical Security Rule

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received 89 comments, dominated by industry, in response to the proposed interim rule on chemical plant security. The rule establishes the first-ever federal chemical security program. Chemical companies and industry associations generally expressed strong support for the rule, whereas most public interest groups and government officials expressed great concern.

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OMB Watch Critical of Proposed Chemical Security Rule

In response to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) proposed interim chemical security rule, OMB Watch will submit comments to DHS that argue for increased transparency and stronger protections at thousands of facilities across the country.

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Chemical Security Program Leaves the Public Vulnerable

On Dec. 28, 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an interim final rule for the creation of a chemical facility security program. However, the program appears to provide little means for increasing security and shrouds important assessments in a veil of secrecy that will prevent any public accountability or oversight.

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Chemical Insecurity

Last night, the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Committee struck a deal to attach chemical security language to the FY 2007 DHS spending bill. The language, agreed upon by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) last week, is a retreat from stronger, bipartisan bills pending in both houses and, according to environmental groups, "turns a blind eye to removing thousands of people from harm's way with off-the-shelf technologies." News of the agreement quickly met with strong criticism from members of Congress and public interest groups.

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Secretive Biodefense Legislation Moves Forward

The House and Senate are nearing a vote on legislation to authorize a new federal agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The agency would oversee "advanced research and development" of countermeasures to bioterrorism threats, epidemics, and pandemics, and would have broad authority to exempt information from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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