Historic Chemical Security Compromise Approved by House

by Mae Stevens

November 6, 2009

Eight years after the September 11th attacks, the House of Representatives today approved the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009,” (H.R. 2868) by a vote of 230 to 193. This is the first time either house of Congress has approved permanent and comprehensive chemical security legislation. 

“Although it’s a compromise, this bill represents a historic first step toward protecting the 100 million Americans living in the shadow of high-risk chemical plants,” said Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace.  “It’s now time for the Senate to recognize the urgency of this issue and embrace common sense solutions that eliminate these risks once and for all,” said Hind.

Earlier this week, Clorox announced plans to convert all of their U.S. facilities from ultra-hazardous chlorine gas to liquid bleach to “strengthen our operations and add another layer of security,” according to their CEO Don Knauss. Clorox also indicated that these changes “won’t affect the size of the company’s workforce." 

Since 9/11 more than 200 chemical facilities have converted to safer chemical processes, eliminating poison gas risks to more than 30 million Americans. Yet 300 other chemical plants together put 110 million Americans at risk.

 “For the first time since the September 11th attacks Congress and the administration are in agreement on how to protect the millions of Americans at risk from chemical plants,” said Hind.

In addition, water utility groups and a coalition of more than 50 organizations are urging Congress to enact this legislation. They include: Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Teamsters, Fire Fighters, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace. 

The House passed bill (H.R. 2868) will:

  • Conditionally require the highest risk plants to use safer chemical processes where feasible and cost-effective and requires the remaining high risk plants to “assess” safer chemical processes;
  • Eliminate the current law’s exemption of thousands of chemical facilities, such as waste water and drinking water plants and port facilities;
  • Involve plant employees in the development of security plans and provides protections for whistleblowers and limit background check abuses;
  • Preserve state’s authority to establish stronger security standards;
  • Provide funding for conversion of plants, including drinking water facilities and wastewater facilities, and
  • Allow citizen suits to enforce government implementation of the law. 

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