Journalists Find Chemical Plants Insecure
by Guest Blogger, 5/31/2005
The New York Times recently uncovered startling security flaws at chemical plants in Dallas and New Orleans after a writer "milled about" for some time around the fence line of plants before even being approached by facility security personnel. Reporters have regularly penetrated chemical plant security with great ease, notwithstanding claims by the chemical industry that it is voluntarily improving security. A May 22 New York Times editorial reported on these gaping security holes surrounding chemical plants that use large quantities of the most hazardous substances. Unfortunately, the example used by the Times is neither the first one nor an isolated case. The Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, an OMB Watch project, has compiled nearly 20 similar news stories from across the country detailing more than 60 instances of chemical plant security failing to keep out uninvited reporters, thieves and security test personnel. Despite these examples, the chemical industry continues to oppose any federal legislation for chemical plant security and risk reduction, maintaining instead that companies can best ensure the public safety if left alone. Thus far, the federal government has bowed to pressure from the chemical industry and refrained from passing any legislation. However, as evidence continues to mount, such as the breeches detailed in the Times editorial and recent congressional testimony from chemical industry safety and security experts, Congress may finally pass a law requiring minimum standards. In a post-9/11 environment, it makes enormous sense to impose requirements on chemical plants to tighten security and to take steps to minimize the use of unsafe chemicals. Several bills have already been introduced and more are expected. On April 12, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY) introduced the Chemical Facility Security Act of 2005 (H.R. 1562). The bill does not require priority facilities to consider safer chemicals or processes, nor does it require all facilities to submit their security reviews to the government for approval. Nonetheless, no other representatives have agreed to cosponsor the bill yet. More recently, on May 10, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the Chemical Security Act of 2005 (H.R. 2237). Pallone's bill places more requirements on facilities to safeguard their plants from a terrorist attack, but still does not require facilities to use safer chemicals and processes where practical. The bill currently has two cosponsors -- Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ). Recently, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, held a hearing on chemical security at which Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) was lead witness. Corzine has introduced several bills on chemical security during previous sessions of Congress. His legislation was opposed by the chemical industry and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, offered an industry-friendly bill that stalemated any movement on Corzine's bill over the past few years. Collins and Corzine are reportedly considering development of a bipartisan bill to be introduced this year. However, security advocates fear that any strong chemical security legislation will be watered down by industry opposition.