Millions Protected From Toxic Terrorism, Congress Must Act to Protect More

More than 40 million Americans are no longer at risk from a poisonous cloud of gas released from a terrorist attack on water treatment plants thanks to process changes at the plants, according to data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The data, painstakingly compiled and analyzed by the Center for American Progress (CAP), reveal that 554 water treatment facilities across the country have converted to safer chemical processes since 1999. However, millions more remain at risk and the Senate is poised to take on this issue. 

The data analysis by CAP and the consultant, Paul Orum, shows that it is technically and economically  possible – and enormously effective – to convert dangerous processes to safer ones, thereby reducing or eliminating the risks to the workers and surrounding schools, homes, and communities.

Now, what about the other 2,600 water facilities that still put millions of citizens needlessly at risk from accidentally or intentionally released poison gas? Moreover, what about the more than 6,000 chemical plants that threaten millions more?

Tomorrow, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will conduct a hearing on the desperate need to finally pass comprehensive chemical facility security legislation.
Currently, the only federal law that addresses this enormous security threat is an industry-written, anemic and overly secretive program that excludes hundreds of high-risk facilities and cannot require facilities to make even minor, common sense security improvements, and it expires in October.
In November 2009, the House passed a compromise bill that would greatly improve the situation and has strong support from numerous labor, environmental, and other public interest groups.
While building on the existing program operated in the Department of Homeland Security, the House-passed bill adds a number of crucial features. For one, it brings water treatment plants into the program, to be regulated by the EPA. The bill also requires all covered plants to assess what safer technologies are available to it. The resulting security plan would thus include the plant's own assessment of what technologies might work at its specific facility to reduce the consequences to the surrounding community should there be a terrorist attack. Only the highest risk plants, and then only under certain conditions, might be required to implement the options that they identified.
The Senate must now craft legislation that addresses the gaping holes in the current temporary program. The only bill the Senate has so far merely extends for five more years the existing security program and ignores its many weakening flaws and gaps.
The Senate should build upon the House bill and produce superior legislation that covers more of the high-risk chemical plants, protects plant employees from abusive, excessive background checks, and provides the public with the information they need to hold facilities and the government accountable.
The current program – and even the House bill – allows the government to lock up even the most basic regulatory data and deny the public any meaningful accountability. Certainly, an informed public is an engaged and vigilant public. It is through the public pressure resulting from disclosure that new solutions are identified, vulnerabilities that had gone unnoticed are reported to the authorities, and facilities strive for safer and more secure operations.
The Senate should expeditiously move to provide us real security instead of a mere extension of the current flawed program. You can urge them to do so here.
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