DHS releases chemical plant safety rules

Published 3 April 2007

DHS declares that 7,000 U.S. chemical plants are at high risk of catastrophe from either an accident or terror

In a move which is not going to please the chemical industry…” — this is how we started a story in yesterday’s [LINK BACK] issue of the Daily Wire on DHS and the chemical industry. We may as well use the same words today, as DHS decalres that about 7,000 chemical facilities, or about half of the chemical plants operating in the United States, are at high risk of catastrophe from either an accident or terror, the government says. DHS yesterday released rules which will require performance standards from these high-risk plants, focusing first on the 300 to 400 facilities considered to be of highest concern because of their proximity to large urban areas.

About seventy DHS regulators will begin this summer carrying out audits and site inspections. Plants that fail to comply face substantial fines or may even be shut down.

As we reported yesterday, DHS bowed to pressure from states which have more stringent safety rules, and the final rules allow existing state laws to remain unchallenged. DHS secretary Michael Chertoff specifically said that the rules will not interfere with any current regulations in New Jersey or any other states. Lawmakers from states in which there are many chemical plants, however, were not reassured. “New Jersey has the strongest chemical-security laws in the nation in part because it asks companies to identify high-risk chemicals and works with those companies to replace them with safer ones,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). “The Bush administration’s proposal would prevent New Jersey from finishing that job.” His colleague, Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), agreed, saying that the federal rules do not yet go far enough to protect citizens. “As the threat evolves and new ideas emerge, states that want to improve security should not have their hands tied by the federal government,” he said.

AP reports that the new rules require the 7,000 high-risk facilities to complete vulnerability assessments and security plans. DHS will set performance standards which include securing the perimeters of the plants and any potential targets inside, controlling access to the facility, deterring theft, and preventing sabotage. The rules allow the department for the first time to force unsafe plants to comply with security measures either by issuing civil fines of up to $25,000 per day or, in the most extreme cases, shutting down a plant.