House Fails to Strengthen Weak Chemical Security Program

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Brad Ashwell

Florida PIRG

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The House today failed to strengthen a weak chemical security program crafted behind closed doors and attached to the Homeland Security funding bill. The vote came on a procedural motion to limit debate and amendments to the funding bill and effectively prevented consideration of an amendment by Representative Sabo (MN) to dramatically improve the underlying chemical security provisions.

“The House missed a critical opportunity to improve a do-nothing chemical security program and in so doing did a huge disservice to the American public,” said U.S. PIRG staff attorney Alex Fidis. “These security measures have consistently been referred to as ‘better than nothing,’ but in reality they are worse than nothing because our nation now has the equivalent to imposing shopping mall-level security at dangerous chemical plants.”

The funding bill security provisions were added after a backroom deal between Homeland Security Committee chairs Senator Collins (ME) and Representative King (NY), and did not include input from other lawmakers. The final deal closely mirrored provisions the chemical industry promoted last week.

The final provisions authorize the Department of Homeland Security to regulate only the chemical plants it determines present a “high risk,” while exempting all other plants from any security regulations. Regulated facilities must develop and submit security plans, but the Department is explicitly prohibited from requiring any specific security measures, leaving security improvement decisions in the hands of the chemical industry. It is also unclear whether the provisions will displace more complete state security laws.

“Without the authority to impose specific security requirements, the Department is left with a rubber stamp program to legitimize the industry’s security status quo,” said Fidis. “It’s pathetic that in five years the best thing Congress can come up with is a rubber stamp program. What happened today is not national security, but Congressional capitulation to the interests of a powerful chemical industry.”

The security provisions added to the funding bill displaced comprehensive chemical security legislation that received bipartisan support and unanimous approval in the House Homeland Security Committee. With the funding provisions in place there is less incentive to develop a meaningful and comprehensive chemical security program.