Chemical Security Legislation Moves Through Second House Committee Republican Amendments to Delay and Gut Bills are Defeated
by Mae Stevens
October 19, 2009
On October 14th, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment chaired by Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) approved comprehensive chemical plant security legislation (H.R. 2868 & H.R. 3258) in an 18 to10 party-line vote. The Subcommittee rejected 13 Republicans amendments aimed at crippling the legislation that will be taken up by the full Energy and Commerce Committee this week. This is the first time this legislation has moved through the Homeland Security Committee.
“Given a choice between protecting millions of Americans at risk and doing nothing, Subcommittee Republicans not only chose nothing, they proposed doing nothing for three more years,” said Rick Hind, Legislative Director of Greenpeace. “The compromises contained in each bill weren’t enough for subcommittee Republicans. They also tried to gut provisions in both bills that would eliminate catastrophic risks in densely populated areas,” said Hind.
The compromise legislation narrows the number of high-risk chemical facilities to approximately 107 that are required to eliminate catastrophic risks with safer chemical processes. It also allows chemical plants a second appeals process to challenge agency decisions and exempts them from direct citizen enforcement. Instead, the bill contains a petition process affording citizens the ability to initiate a government investigation into potential violations by a chemical facility. The compromise legislation also does not ensure that residents living downwind of high-risk chemical plants will be informed if nearby facilities are subject to or in compliance with security regulations.
“This bill clearly represents a compromise on some major issues. We look forward to working with the Energy and Commerce Committee this week to improve the bill further,” said Hind.
More than 200 chemical facilities have converted to safer chemical processes since 9/11 eliminating poison gas risks to 38 million Americans. Hundreds of other chemical plants together put more than 100 million Americans at risk. A blue-green coalition of more than 50 organizations have been urging Congress to enact legislation to eliminate these risks. They include: the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Teamsters, Fire Fighters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Greenpeace. The Department of Homeland Security and the EPA testified in favor of this legislation at an October 1st hearing held by the Subcommittee.
In June, the House Homeland Security Committee approved a different version of H.R. 2868, which included four major loopholes not contained in the Energy & Commerce bills.
The Energy & Environment Subcommittee version of H.R. 2868 and H.R. 3258 would also:
– Eliminate the current law’s exemption of thousands of chemical plants, such as waste water and drinking water facilities;
– Involve plant employees in the development of security plans and provides protections for whistleblowers;
– Preserve state’s authority to establish stronger security standards, and
– provide up to $225 (H.R. 2868) and $375 (H.R. 3258) million respectively toward the implementation of safer chemical processes over a three-year period.