Chemical Security Remains an Unaddressed Problem

An April 27 panel of government officials and security experts told the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that chemical security remains a looming problem that the federal government refuses to address. The same day the House Committee on Homeland Security proved that point by rejecting an amendment to improve security related to shipments of dangerous chemicals. Also the same day, President Bush called for development of new oil refineries on old military bases but did not address the existing gaps in chemical security. The Senate hearing addressed the fact that there are no federal regulations that require security measures at chemical facilities although numerous officials have noted the significant risk these facilities pose to national security. One panelist referred to these facilities as thousands of "weapons of mass destruction" around the country. While the panelists offered different recommendations on how best to structure a federal solution to the problem they all agreed that new federal laws are needed to address chemical security issues. Richard Falkenrath, a visiting fellow studying foreign policy for the Brookings Institution and a previous homeland security advisor to President Bush, told the committee that some the chemical industry's voluntary efforts "are good," but "I recommend federal regulations; no question." Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), sponsor of chemical security legislation in the last Congress, also testified at the hearing and stressed the importance of congressional action on the issues. Corzine informed the committee that any chemical security legislation should include both improving plant perimeter security and reducing hazards in the facilities to minimize the impact of a successful attack. Corzine strongly recommended requiring facilities to consider safer chemicals and technologies. "Examination of alternative approaches should be required in legislation," Corzine testified, "not mandated, but legislation should make certain they've been examined." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chairman of the committee, appeared convinced by the testimony that chemical security was an important issue that had gotten too little attention in the over three years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Collins stated, "I am inclined to believe we need strong federal legislation in this area, but legislation that does not put a significant burden on the chemical industry." Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), the ranking Democrat on the committee, agreed and predicted, "we're going to get something done to protect chemical facilities in this Congress." However, no chemical security legislation has been introduced in the Senate in the 109th Congress. At the same time, the House Committee on Homeland Security rejected an amendment to require rerouting of extremely hazardous materials around sensitive areas. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) submitted the amendment to the Homeland Security Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2006 (H.R. 1817). Markey noted that the administration has done nothing to address shipments of hazardous materials and proposed in the amendment a national plan to protect such shipments. Under the plan, rerouting would only have been required if the Department of Homeland Security had determined that a safer route was available. Markey originally introduced the plan as a stand-alone bill, the Extremely Hazardous Materials Transportation Security Act of 2005 (H.R. 4824), but then decided to attach the measure to the Homeland Security authorization bill. The amendment failed after receiving a 16-12 vote along party lines on April 27. The authorization bill now moves the House floor for debate. The provision was introduced, in part, to address the District of Columbia's recent struggle to improve safety by requiring hazardous shipments to be rerouted around the city. The provision has been challenged by both CSX, a rail transportation company, and the federal government. District Councilwoman Kathy Patterson (D), categorized the rejection of the Markey amendment as "a slap in the face to citizens who look to their federal government for protection from terrorist threats." Also on April 27, the president proposed building new oil refineries at closed military bases and jumpstarting construction of new nuclear power plants to address rising energy costs. He also proposed giving federal regulators the lead authority to decide where to locate terminals for processing imported natural gas. Liquefied natural gas terminals take compressed, supercold natural gas shipped from overseas and warm it into usable energy. Only four such terminals exist in the United States and authority for terminals currently resides with states. Despite these proposals that increase chemical risks, the president has yet to address the need to strengthen chemical security at plants and terminals.
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