House panel passes chemical plant safety bill

Published 14 July 2006

The House panel has now joined a Senate panel in passing a draft chemical plant safety bill; both bills offer qualified federal preemption, and no IST

We are moving closer to introducing a role for DHS in evaluating the safety of operations at chemical plants. We reported last week that a Senate panel has unanimously passed a chemical plant safety bill, and two days ago the House Homeland Security subcommittee, in a 16-2 vote, passed a bipartisan bill (H.R. 5695). The House measure, introduced by Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee chairman Dan Lungren (R-California), and ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), would allow DHS to regulate companies which work with chemicals, and require that they conduct vulnerability assessments to be reviewed by DHS. The department would also rank chemical facilities into one of four tiers based on risk. Facilities would be able to determine what measures to take in order to meet the new safety standards set by DHS secretary. “Keeping this legislation risk-based and performance-based ensures that we don’t enact inflexible or unreasonable requirements for all of the nation’s 15,000 or more chemical facilities which are vital to our way of life,” Lungren said.

The main difference between the Senate and House bills is the question of federal preemption of state safety measures. The House legislation allows state and local governments to enforce stricter chemical safety laws, but only if those requirements do not “frustrate” federal requirements. The bill allows DHS secretary to preempt any state or local law that undermines federal measures. The Senate’s chemical safety measure, on the other hand, mandates that the issue of state preemption be determined in court.

The House measure, as is the case with the Senate bill, does not require chemical plants to install “inherently safer technologies” (IST) in order to meet safety standards.