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Chemical Security Legislation Passed by House

(Beyond Pesticides, November 10, 2009) Eight years after the September 11th attacks, the U.S. House of Representatives approved on November 6, 2009 the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009, (H.R. 2868) by a vote of 230-193. The legislation was led by Representatives Thompson (D-MS), Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Waxman (D-CA), Markey (D-MA), Oberstar (D-MN) and Johnson (D-TX). This is the first time either house of Congress has approved permanent and comprehensive chemical security legislation.

“Although it’s a compromise, this bill represents a historic first step toward protecting the 100 million Americans living in the shadow of high-risk chemical plants,” said Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace. Attempts by House Republicans to weaken the legislation were voted down. “The day after a terrorist attack at a chemical plant kills thousands of Americans, any suggestion that we should not require the use of safer chemicals at these plants will be considered totally crazy. Republicans should have been offering amendments to strengthen this modest legislation instead of trying to cripple it,” said Mr. Hind.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act will require thousands of facilities where a toxic release endangers the surrounding community to assess their ability to “reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack” by switching to safer alternative chemicals or processes, and authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Environmental Protection Agency to require use of those alternatives at the nation’s most dangerous facilities where feasible and cost-effective.

“With this historic vote, the House said, ‘Yes, we can’ protect American communities in the face of the ‘can’t do’ rhetoric of the chemical lobby,” said U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock. “Reducing the use of dangerous chemicals will make communities safer while also reducing the threat that chemical stockpiles become terrorist targets.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one hundred facilities endanger more than a million people in the event of an accident or attack; more than 7000 facilities endanger thousands. One hundred and ten million Americans live in the shadow of catastrophic poison gas release from one of 300 chemical facilities.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has announced that he intends to introduce a Senate version of H.R. 2868 this year, noting the momentum of the House vote.

“We should not tolerate unnecessary risk to millions of Americans when we know that we can do better, and we should not tolerate further delay in passing this already long overdue protection for America’s communities,” said Ms. Hitchcock. “We applaud the bill’s sponsors for their tenacious support for this important legislation, and look forward to working with champions in the Senate to bring this bill to the President’s desk.”

Earlier this week, the Clorox Company announced plans to convert all of its U.S. facilities from ultra-hazardous chlorine gas to liquid bleach to “strengthen our operations and add another layer of security,” according to Clorox CEO Don Knauss. Clorox also indicated that these changes “won’t affect the size of the company’s workforce.” Mr. Hind added, “By leading the way in eliminating the potential consequences of a catastrophic terrorist attack or accident, Clorox provided Congress with compelling new evidence to enact chemical plant security legislation.”

Since 9/11 more than 200 chemical facilities have converted to safer chemical processes, eliminating poison gas risks to more than 30 million Americans. Yet 300 other chemical plants together put 110 million Americans at risk.

On October 1, the Department of Homeland Security and EPA for the first time testified in favor of this legislation. “For the first time since the September 11th attacks Congressional leaders and the administration are in agreement on legislation that will actually protect the millions of Americans that remain at risk from chemical plants that can be turned into weapons of mass destruction,” said Mr. Hind.

In addition, water utility groups and a blue-green coalition of more than 50 organizations are urging Congress to enact this legislation. They include: Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Teamsters, Fire Fighters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace.

The House-passed bill (H.R. 2868) will:
• Conditionally require the highest risk plants to use safer chemical processes where feasible and cost-effective and requires the remaining high risk plants to “assess” safer chemical processes;
• Eliminate the current law’s exemption of thousands of chemical facilities, such as waste water and drinking water plants and port facilities;
• Involve plant employees in the development of security plans and provides protections for whistleblowers and limit back ground check abuses;
• Preserve state’s authority to establish stronger security standards;
• Provide funding for conversion of plants, including drinking water facilities and wastewater
• facilities, and
• Allow citizen suits to enforce government implementation of the law.

Examples of the compromise include:
• Limits the number of chemical facilities (approximately 107) subject to safer chemicals;
• Allows chemical plants to appeal safer chemicals requirements;
• Limits citizen enforcement suits to government agencies, and
• Limits information to the public on which chemical facilities are regulated.

Take Action: Encourage your Senators to support Senator Lautenberg’s chemical security legislation and ask Senator Lautenberg to keep the legislation strong in the face of industry pressure to weaken it. Beyond Pesticides will post the bill number here once the legislation is introduced.


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