On Thursday, May 26 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a “markup” and vote on H.R. 908, a bill to extend the flawed Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) for seven years. Despite calls from Greenpeace and over 80 other environmental, public health, and labor organizations to oppose the bill and fix well-known gaps in the legislation, the Republican majority voted with the oil refineries and chemical companies, to extend the program with only a few cosmetic changes. More surprising was that a cadre of Democrats led by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) joined Republicans in this vote, most of them flip flopping from their votes for disaster prevention legislation in 2009.
There were several amendments proposed that would have made CFATS stronger, but they were completely ignored by the Republican majority. The key provision that would protect communities from chemical disasters was offered by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), an amendment that would have required the highest risk facilities to convert to safer alternatives—sounds like a no-brainer right? If chemical companies can use technologies that don’t pose a catastrophic threat, shouldn’t they have to? The amendment was based upon the House passed H.R. 2868 of 2009 that would have revamped CFATS into a comprehensive chemical security program. Unfortunately, the Republican majority uniformly voted the amendment down, opting instead to stick with the program as it is.
Along with voting down a disaster prevention clause, Republicans took a shot at workers by voting against protections for whistleblowers, and involving employees in security plans. Why shouldn't workers contribute to the site security plans of the dangerous facilities that they keep running?
To add insult to injury, the Republicans voted to extend the flawed CFATS program another year to 2018, a year longer than the 2017 sunset date originally proposed in H.R. 908.
So at the end of the markup we were left with more of the same. The Republicans used their majority to overrule the legitimate concerns of their Democratic counterparts, public interest groups, nurses, labor unions, and environmentalists to vote with their big oil and chemical company sponsors. CFATS is as weak if not weaker than ever.
I leave you with Rep. Ed Markey's chemical security song lyrics:
Don't know much about chemistry.
Don't know much toxicology.
Don't know what's ammonium nitrate.
Except it's easy to detonate.
But I do know if IST,
Was used to increase security.
What a much safer world this could be.
Though this committee may have failed to pass common sense policy to prevent chemical disasters, there's still time to stop this bill before it goes to the Senate. Contact your Representative now, before H.R. 908 comes up for a full vote and ask him or her to vote against this flawed bill.
Call 202 224 3121 and ask to speak with your Representative.