Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is this week’s chemical security hijacker.

Collins is pursuing an extension of the fatally flawed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) without correcting any of its flaws.  CFATS was enacted in 2006 to give Congress time to approve comprehensive legislation.

As the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), Collins has used her position to undermine even modest disaster prevention proposals since 2006 with oil and chemical industry backed bills such as S. 473

When Republicans feared losing control of Congress in 2006, Sen. Collins introduced a bill (S. 2145) that included safer chemical processes as a “security measure.”   Ultimately, however, Collins abandoned her original bill and led HSGAC in adopting a bill that barred DHS from requiring any security measure, including safer processes. 

Sen. Collins is now attempting to extend the CFATS program without correcting its fatal flaws. Organized labor and environmental groups have called on Congress to conditionally require safer chemical processes at high risk plants and to close gaping loopholes that exempt thousands of refineries, water treatment plants and other chemical facilities. Instead of addressing these concerns, Collins trumpets her legislation as continuing an “effective” program, touting the bill as having the support of oil and chemical industry lobby groups such as the American Chemistry Council.

Sen. Collins’ position on chemical security legislation has changed with the politics. In 2005, the comprehensive bill she introduced listed safer chemical processes as a security measure (S. 2145). After abandoning that bill she helped pass CFATS in 2006 as a temporary law and made it clear that it was a placeholder for more comprehensive legislation later.   That’s why CFATS contains a sunset provision. In the intervening six years, however, Sen. Collins has changed her view, which is even more in line with the oil and chemical lobby.

Sen. Collins has also accepted campaign contributions from the American Chemistry Council, Koch Industries, and more recently the National Association of Chemical Distributors and the National Petrochemical Refiners Association.  These chemical industry groups have lobbied Congress to support a permanent extension of a weak CFATS. 

After the House passed comprehensive legislation in November 2009, Collins had a golden opportunity in 2010 to enact a comprehensive bill, yet she continues to hold comprehensive legislation hostage by pushing her extension of CFATS without eliminating its flaws. Early this year Collins introduced S. 473, a bill identical to her 2010 proposed extension of CFATS. At Collin’s request, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Chairman of HSGAC, convened a markup of her bill on June 29th. 

Greenpeace activists registered their disgust over the bill by distributing air sickness bags to members of the committee and audience. The failure in Congress to enact disaster prevention is impossible to stomach. If the Congress extends CFATS for any more than a year to allow time to enact truly protective legislation they invite endless delays, while continuing to leave hundreds of communities vulnerable to Bhopal magnitude disasters

In a letter handed to Sen. Collins in an airline sickness bag, Greenpeace wrote, “we urge you to disengage from this hijacking by the petro-chemical industry and support legislation that reflects the lessons of 9/11 and truly protects the millions at risk not the few who create the risks."  

There happen to be many more high risk chemical plants in California than in Maine but that doesn’t mean Sen. Collins doesn’t have a duty to protect all Americans who live in the poison gas danger zones surrounding these plants.  That responsibility extends to protecting  the employees who work at the plants, the first responders and health professionals who respond to disasters, those who ship dangerous chemicals around the country and the millions who live along chemical transportation routes. 

There was bipartisan opposition to Collins’ bill in today’s hearing. One of her co-sponsors, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected to CFATS’ price tag. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) expressed the intention to seek improvements to the bill by including inherently safer processes and closing the water security gap that exempts 2,400 water treatment plants. Nevertheless, the bill carried. Check back for updates should the bill be brought to the floor. 

But there’s still a long way to go. Collins and the rest of the Senate have time to fix the loopholes in the bill and thereby give the country a chemical security program we deserve. 

Stop this hijacking of our security by calling your Senator today.