August 11, 2003

Business as Usual for Chemical Plants

Here is the latest brave screed from Gary Hart...The
work that used to be done by aggressive reporting for
the front page is now being done by statesman citizens
for the Op-Ed pages...Yes, the names of Gary Hart and
Warren Rudman, of course, belong on the John O'Neil
Wall of Heroes..."As hard as it is to believe, the chemical industry has refused to take adequate precautions to safeguard its facilities and surrounding communities...The Bush administration's homeland security efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks have ignored this highly vulnerable sector. The White House was silent last summer while industry lobbyists scuttled federal legislation that would have required chemical companies to address their vulnerability to attack."


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42185-2003Aug10.html?referrer=emailarticle

washingtonpost.com
Business as Usual for Chemical Plants

By Gary Hart

Monday, August 11, 2003; Page A17

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush
administration, working with Congress, moved quickly
to shore up homeland security in some of our most
critical areas. Airports are now safer, and some
municipal water supplies are better protected. But the
government has failed to plug a gaping hole in
homeland security: our vulnerable chemical plants.

The 15,000 facilities around the country that produce,
use or store significant quantities of toxic chemicals
present attractive targets for terrorists. According
to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 100
of these plants, especially those near urban areas,
could endanger a million or more Americans if
attacked. In 2001 the Army's surgeon general
reportedly ranked this health risk second only to a
widespread biological attack. Earlier this year the
National Infrastructure Protection Center warned that
al Qaeda might target chemical facilities in the
United States as part of its terror campaign. And
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said that
the administration is concerned that terrorists could
turn a chemical facility "into a weapon."

These assessments are alarming but not surprising.
Three years ago former senator Warren Rudman and I
co-chaired a commission assessing America's national
security. Our bipartisan investigation found, among
other things, that the "critical infrastructure upon
which so much of the U.S. economy depends can now be
targeted by non-state and state actors alike."
Chemical facilities are among the potentially most
dangerous components of our critical infrastructure.
Securing them requires urgent action.

As hard as it is to believe, the chemical industry has
refused to take adequate precautions to safeguard its
facilities and surrounding communities. Some plants
have strengthened on-site security by adding guards,
building fences or installing surveillance cameras.
Others have committed to reducing or phasing out their
use of highly hazardous processes or chemicals in
favor of safer ones. Unfortunately, however, it is
still business as usual at most plants. They continue
to deal with high volumes of dangerous chemicals --
even when safer materials or processes are readily
available. That is why the government must require
industry cooperation in homeland security.
The Bush administration's homeland security efforts
since the Sept. 11 attacks have ignored this highly
vulnerable sector. The White House was silent last
summer while industry lobbyists scuttled federal
legislation that would have required chemical
companies to address their vulnerability to attack.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), died
in Congress without a vote, even though a bipartisan
Senate committee had passed it unanimously. Meanwhile,
in March of this year, the General Accounting Office
issued a report urging passage of legislation to
require the industry to assess its vulnerability to
terrorism and, where necessary, require corrective
action.

The Bush administration and its congressional allies
nevertheless ignore Corzine's security solution. Even
worse, the White House and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)
are pushing a separate and far weaker bill, one that
would leave millions of Americans vulnerable to
chemical terrorism.

Incredibly, the Inhofe bill provides for virtually no
oversight or enforcement of safety requirements.
Unlike Corzine's proposal, it would not allow the
government to demand emergency action by companies
that it has reason to believe are terrorist targets,
nor would it insist on government review of facility
security plans. (The latter failure is akin to the
Internal Revenue Service's telling companies to fill
out their tax forms but not to bother to file them.)
The Inhofe bill prohibits the federal agency with the
most expertise on chemicals, the EPA, from putting its
skills to good use. And unlike the Corzine bill, the
Inhofe bill would not require companies to replace
dangerous chemicals -- which might pose tempting
terrorist targets -- even when safer technologies are
available and affordable. The chemical manufacturers
say that they will consider making their processes
safer. But we did not just ask airlines to simply
consider improving security -- we made them do it.

If Inhofe's bill were to become law, only the chemical
industry would breathe easier. But the Bush
administration has an obligation to all Americans to
do more than simply permit industry to write its own
rules. We need legislation that keeps us safer by
requiring chemical companies to reduce their risks and
that ensures accountability through government
oversight.

The writer is a former Democratic senator from
Colorado.

2003 The Washington Post Company

Posted by richard at August 11, 2003 08:06 AM