Congress fed up, sort of, with recalcitrant chemical industry

Published 5 December 2005

Win some, lose some: Congress to impose security reporting requirements on stubborn industry, but chemical plants will still devise their own security standards

The list of homeland security shortcomings is not short, but probably the one which tops it is the lack of security standards for the petrochemical industries. Here are four things you need to know and which may — and should — keep you awake at night. Fact: Security experts all agree that short of a nuclear attack on an American city, the most severe danger of massive civilian casualties is posed by the 15,000 chemical plants in the United States. Fact: The chemical industry and its allies in the administration and Congress have so far resisted the formulation of any meaningful and enforceable set of security standards and regulations by which the industry should abide. Fact: The industry — largely as a public relations ploy— has agreed to set up a voluntary security program for its members. The program is voluntary in the sense the producers of deadly chemical do not have to take part in the program, and in the sense that the program merely suggests, not imposes, security measures. Fact: Fewer than 2,000 of the 15,000 chemical facilities in the United States chose to participate in the program. There is no way to know how many of these plants have implemented the security program’s suggestions.

Congress has slowly come to the realization that relying on the chemical industry voluntarily to make sure that it conducts itself with sufficient attention to security and terrorism concerns is not a good idea. Valiant efforts by the industry’s lobbyists notwithstanding, the nation’s chemical industry, after years of policing itself, is now facing broad federal regulation of security at its plants to safeguard against terror attacks. A draft no-nonsense proposal with broad support is circulating in the Senate stipulating that chemical plants that fail to create, update, and submit security plans for their facilities could be shut down by the Homeland Security Department. Take note: the draft bill would expand federal regulatory authority over chemical plants, but it has not set specific minimum standards that the industry needs to meet in securing its facilities.

About one-fifth of the nation’s chemical facilities are close to population centers. DHS has identified 297 chemical facilities where a toxic release could affect 50,000 or more people.

-read more in this AP report