Partisan Nit-Picking Ignores Disaster Risks for Thousands of Chemical Facilities
Greenpeace ridiculed Republican hearings about the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “partisan nit-picking” as Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind said, “Only in Washington, can you hear people say, ‘this program isn’t working,’ so let’s extend it until 2018.” Following a Fox News report on an internal DHS memo, House Republicans held another hearing March 6 on the DHS’s Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).
“Instead of fixing a fatally flawed law written by Republicans and industry lobbyists in 2006, congressional Republicans are engaging in partisan nit-picking about predictable failures in CFATS that the DHS first identified,” said Hind. Meanwhile, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, more than 110 million Americans remain at risk from high risk chemical plants. “These hearings are a dangerous distraction from DHS’s prudent legislative proposals which would strengthen CFATS to provide real protection for millions of people living down wind of high risk chemical plants,” said Hind.
Since 2009 the DHS has asked Congress for authority to eliminate catastrophic chemical plant hazards and close major security gaps in CFATS that exempt thousands of chemical facilities (see examples below).
In 2006, Congress passed a temporary 744 word “rider” to the Homeland Security Appropriations Act to allow Congress more time to enact a comprehensive program. In 2009 the House passed a comprehensive bill (H.R. 2868) but it was blocked in the Senate. Ironically, in 2009, Dow Chemical also proposed legislative language to conditionally require high risk plants to use safer cost-effective processes. The current House Republican bills (H.R. 901 & H.R. 908) would lock in all security gaps and loopholes in CFATS for another 7 years.
Instead of waiting for Congress to act, more than 100 organizations are urging President Obama to use his authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce these risks. This was proposed by the Bush EPA in 2002 but it was never implemented. “We can no longer afford to wait for Congress to act responsibly,” concluded Hind.
Like CFATS H.R. 901 and H.R. 908 would:
- Actually bar the DHS from requiring any “particular security measure” including safer chemical processes and therefore fails to reduce the consequences of an attack at any of the 4,422 “high risk” chemical facilities now in the program. It handcuffs the DHS from requiring what Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) calls “the only foolproof way to defeat a terrorist determined to strike a chemical facility.”
- Exempt the majority of the 12,361 chemical facilities in the EPA’s chemical disaster program. According to a Congressional Research Service analysis of EPA data, 6,851 of these chemical facilities put 1,000 or more people in surrounding communities at risk of a catastrophic release of a ultra-hazardous chemical.
- Fail to protect people living and working near 2,400 U.S. drinking water & waste treatment plants and approximately 500 chemical facilities located on navigable waterways, including a majority of the U.S.’s 150 refineries. All chemical facilities regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are exempt from CFATS, which includes the highest risk plants in the U.S.
- Fail to provide funding to convert publicly owned water treatment systems or private chemical facilities to safer chemical processes The House passed bill (H.R. 2868) in 2009 provided assistance to offset conversion costs. An independent analysis concluded that H.R. 2868 would have created 8,000 new jobs. The two sectors that would most benefit were publicly owned water systems and the chemical industry sector.
- Fail to require meaningful involvement of plant employees in developing vulnerability assessments and security plans or protect against background check abuses. Employees are the eyes and ears of a plant and their first line of defense.
- Fail to include whistleblower protections and citizen suits to enhance enforcement and implementation of the law. DHS rules ignore the long history of whistleblowers who have exposed waste, fraud and abuse. Citizens should also be able to ensure that government agencies implement the law as Congress intended. In this case these provisions could also save thousands of lives.
Legislation introduced on March 31, 2011 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) (S. 709 & S.711) would address these flaws in CFATS.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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