July 6, 2010

“The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) new regulations on chemical plant security are too little too late. As a result, millions of Americans living as far as 20 miles from ultra-hazardous chemical plants will remain at risk until Congress enacts permanent legislation. The DHS has previously identified 4,391 chemical plants that put 1,000 or more people at risk inside chemical “kill zones." It remains to be seen how or when these facilities will be prioritized for the minimal fence-line security the regulations allow.”

In a clumsy attempt to lesson a confrontation with the Congress, DHS Secretary Chertoff sent a letter (April 1) to Congress claiming that the DHS narrowed their regulations barring states from setting stricter security standards. However, the new regulations continue to claim broad authority to preempt any "state law, regulation or administrative action" even though NO such authority exists in the 740 word law that their regulations are based upon. "This is a not very funny April Fool's to the Congress. The effective preemption of states is unchanged in the final DHS regulation."

The temporary federal law also prohibits the DHS from requiring a chemical plant to take any "particular security measure," such the use of safer chemicals.  "This is the moral equivalent of barring a doctor from using penicillin to save a patient. It is criminal not to use these measures wherever they are feasible," said Hind.

A bi-partisan bill reported out of the House Homeland Security Committee last July (H.R. 5695) would have gone a step beyond the New Jersey program by requiring the use of safer chemicals as long as they are cost effective.

According to the EPA just four chemicals account for the catastrophic risks at 55% of U.S. chemical plants. And one chemical, chlorine, accounts for the majority of risks at the 100 highest risk chemical plants.  All of these chemicals have safer substitutes already widely used across the U.S.  For any chemical without a safer alternative, the use of smaller storage quantities is an interim step that will dramatically reduce the magnitude of a successful terrorist attack.

The DHS regulations are based on a temporary law that will expire October 2009. "Given the grossly weak and temporary nature of this statute, President Bush and Secretary Chertoff have been conspicuously negligent in asking Congress to enact permanent legislation," concluded Hind.

Unlike the bi-partisan legislation (H.R. 5695) adopted by the House Homeland Security Committee in July, 2006 the new DHS regulations:

--- Fail to require safer technologies that can eliminate the magnitude

of an attack on a chemical plant.

--- Fail to protect approximately 3,000 U.S. water treatment plants

and other chemical facilities explicitly exempted by the temporary law.

About 100 water treatment plants each put 100,000 or more people at risk.

--- Fail to assure safety of the 4,391 most hazardous facilities

identified by DHS.

--- Fail to set deadlines by when DHS will approve security plans.

--- Fail to require meaningful involvement of plant employees in

developing vulnerability

assessments and security plans as New Jersey does.

--- Fail to include whistleblower protections to enhance enforcement.

--- Fail to ensure the right of ALL states to establish stronger

security standards, as many laws currently do.

--- Fail to enhance enforcement by limiting information available to the

courts and the public by making previously public information a secret.

The DHS's rules are based on a 2007 DHS appropriations bill. It was enacted with expectation that the next Congress would enact permanent legislation before it expires in October 2009.

"The President's FY 2008 DHS budget request of $25 million for chemical security reveals a lot about his priorities.  That budget is equal to only 108 minutes of U.S. military spending on the Iraq war. It is also about $14 million LESS than they have budgeted to protect presidential candidates."

VVPR info: Contact: Jane Kochersperger, Media Officer, (202) 680-3798

We Need Your Voice Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.