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Partisan Nit-Picking Ignores Disaster Risks for Thousands of Chemical Facilities

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Greenpeace USA

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.

For more information, click here.

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