WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today said that the chemical plant security legislation agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators last week is far too weak and fails to adequately protect American lives.
“The sad truth is that this legislation does far more to protect chemical industry interests than it does to protect the millions of Americans who would be at risk if terrorists were to attack a chemical plant,” said Senator ABM. “Our inability to secure these sites is one of our greatest security failures since the September 11th attacks.”
“We're five years out from September 11th and America still hasn’t secured its chemical facilities from terrorists. Instead of adopting the House and Senate plans to protect the nation’s chemical plants, the Republicans and the White House went behind closed doors and cut a deal with the chemical industry,” said Senator Lautenberg.
There are 111 facilities in the United States where a worst-case scenario attack on a chemical plant could threaten more than one million people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of these facilities are within Chicago's city limits. Illinois has at least 11 facilities where a large-scale chemical release could threaten more than a million people.
While many chemical plant owners have taken steps to beef up security, too many have not. In Illinois, there have been recent reports by ABC-7 in Chicago of chemical plants with dilapidated fences, insufficient guard forces, and unprotected tanks of hazardous chemicals. These plants are basically stationary weapons of mass destruction. Their security is light, their facilities are easily entered, and their contents are deadly.
ABM and Lautenberg urged Congressional leaders to take up comprehensive chemical plant security legislation before the end of the year. Both the House and Senate Committees on Homeland Security passed separate chemical plant bills, but neither has been considered by their respective full chambers.
Earlier this year, Senators ABM, Lautenberg, Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Chemical Safety and Security Act of 2006 that would replace current weak voluntary chemical plant security standards with a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must abide by. Plants that are considered a high risk to large population areas or critical infrastructure would face more stringent standards.
Plant owners and employees would work together to tailor their security plans to address each individual facility's vulnerabilities, but they would face tough penalties for noncompliance. The bill would also protect the right of states to establish security standards that fit local needs so that states like New Jersey that have been leaders in chemical security do not see their current laws weakened.
The bill addresses all methods to reduce risk, including physical security such as security forces, perimeter defenses, hazard mitigation and emergency response. But the bill also requires the use of safer technologies to reduce the attractiveness of chemical plants as a target. This concept, known as Inherently Safer Technology, involves methods such as changing the flow of chemical processes to avoid dangerous chemical byproducts, reducing the pressures or temperatures of chemical reactions to minimize the risk of explosions, reducing inventories of dangerous chemicals and replacing dangerous chemicals with benign ones. Each one of these methods reduces the danger that chemical plants pose to our communities and makes them less appealing targets for terrorists.