Congress Takes First Step to Secure Chemical Plants

by Mae Stevens

June 24, 2009

"The Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009” (H.R. 2868) was agreed to at 6:00 PM on June 23rd, by a vote of 18 to 11, with all Republicans voting no.

The good news is that after three days of voting the Homeland Security Committee rejected the most crippling amendments by Republicans on behalf of the chemical industry. These included proposals to delete entire sections of the bill that would require the use of safer chemical processes at the highest risk plants and allow citizens to take violators to court. The Committee also preserved requirements for all facilities to assess safer technologies, kept the inclusion of waste water facilities, worker participation in security plans and preserved states’ authority to set stronger standards. In addition, they added grants for training first responders.

The bad news is that, before they voted against the entire bill, the Republicans won four amendments (aka loopholes) designed to delay or undermine requirements to use safer chemicals or processes. The four amendments are:

  1. An amendment by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) that could exempt the highest risk plants in the country from implementing safer chemical processes if they meet the Small Business Administration definition of a “small business concern,” which the DHS will decide after a one year review. Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX) warned that 40% of U.S. chemical plants could qualify as a “small business concern” using the SBA definition.
  2. An amendment by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) to delay the implementation of safer chemicals processes at any plant until the DHS conducts a “detailed analysis” of the costs of implementing safer chemical processes.
  3. Another amendment by Rep. Dent (R-PA) that could exempt the highest risk chemical facilities from implementing safer chemical processes if they can show that switching to safer chemical processes would reduce their operations or workforce.
  4. An amendment by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) that would add a second appeals process allowing chemical facilities to challenge DHS findings that direct them to implement safer chemical processes.

Taken together these four amendments will give industry more excuses to resist using safer processes that are already protecting hundreds of communities.

The bill goes next to the Energy and Commerce Committee. We will need your help to urge them to CLOSE THESE LOOPHOLES and make additional improvements to the bill. In particular, Greenpeace would like to see:

  • Requirement for implementation of safer chemical processes at chemical plants in the two highest risk tiers and prioritize funding for publicly owned water facilities that convert to safer processes.
  • Involvement of employees in inspections, prevention of abuse of employee background checks, compensation of employees in the event of a shutdown and provisions for employees & first responders with training grants.
  • Increased accountability to make non-security related information available to replicate success stories and make compliance information public.

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