Senate introduces bills to protect chemical and water plants nationwide

Feature story - July 21, 2010
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced a comprehensive legislative package that would help to prevent debilitating terrorist attacks at America’s chemical, drinking water, and wastewater facilities. This legislation requires plants to assess their vulnerability, develop plans to address those vulnerabilities, and requires the highest-risk facilities to convert their facilities to safer processes that don’t have the risk of a catastrophic chemical release.

senate introduces bill

The Secure Water Facilities Act (S. 3598) and Secure Chemical Facilities Act (S. 3599) would require changes for the highest-risk facilities, preventing undue burdens on small, low-risk facilities while protecting against the greatest threats. Some of the changes that can be implemented at water and chemical plants include reducing the amount of lethal gases stored on-site or minimizing the use of dangerous chlorine gas.

Millions at risk

Did you know that the Department of Homeland Security has identified over 5,333 "high-risk" chemical plants in the United States? Just 300 of these plants together put 110 million Americans at risk. And on April 2nd a refinery in Washington State blew up killing eight workers. Meanwhile the failed May 1st car bomb in New York's Times Square was a grim reminder of our continuing vulnerability to terrorism.

Safer alternatives exist

The greatest risks posed by U.S. chemical plants is their use of huge quantities of poison gases such as chlorine. Fortunately safer processes are available for virtually all of them.

In fact, more than 287 chemical plants have switched to safer chemicals or processes over the last ten years. This common sense action has eliminated catastrophic risks to 38 million Americans. That's the good news. The bad news is that most of the highest risk plants have NOT adopted safer processes -- and they won't until laws are passed that require them to do so.

Chemical industry lobbyists

Since the 9/11 attacks, chemical industry lobbyists, including Dow, DuPont, BP and Exxon have blocked strong legislation. Greenpeace identified 169 lobbyists registered to keep Congress from enacting a strong chemical security law. But in spite of that, last November the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 2868) that will eliminate these risks. And, now the Senate has a new bill that would help save lives. The bills are endorsed by a broad coalition of over 90 environmental, health, and labor groups.

Creating Jobs

The chemical industry lobbyists are routinely asserting without any substantiation that if this legislation is adopted it will eliminate jobs and hurt the economy. Greenpeace didn’t believe them so we commissioned a neutral firm, Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI), to conduct an independent economic analysis of H.R. 2868 (Senator Lautenberg’s bill has a similar fiscal profile).

The MISI analysis thoroughly rebutted the claims of these opponents of safety and security. MISI shows that the House passed bill will actually create 8,000 jobs and leverage nearly $2 billion in economic stimulus. Furthermore, the two sectors of the economy that will benefit the most are the chemical industry and publicly owned water treatment plants.

The bills would:


  • Require the chemical and water facilities to assess their vulnerability to attack, develop a plan to address those vulnerabilities and respond to an emergency, and provide worker training to carry out the plan.
  • Require facilities using dangerous chemicals to evaluate whether the facility could reduce the consequences of an attack by, for example, using a safer chemical or process. The facility must implement those safer measures if it has been classified as one of the highest-risk facilities, implementation of safer measures is feasible, and implementation would not increase risk overall by shifting risk to another location. 
  • Protect sensitive security information from disclosure, while ensuring information sharing between state and local governments, first-responders, and workers.
  • Allow communities to have a role in ensuring local facilities comply with these regulations. 
  • Authorize grants to help defray the cost of assessing vulnerabilities, developing security and response plans, and implementing safer measures.