Experts Weigh in on Inhofe-Miller

Published July 1, 2003

The Inhofe-Miller chemical security bill is proving to be an example of the often-divisive nature of “compromise” legislation.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the U.S. is home to more than 100 high-risk chemical facilities, where terrorist attacks could kill more than 1 million people, and another 700 facilities where terrorist attacks could kill 100,000 or more. Inhofe-Miller was drafted in response to that assessment, and as an alternative to extreme anti-chemical provisions in the rival Corzine bill.

But is any bill necessary to address the issue? Many experts don’t think so.

“What should be debunked first,” says Cato Institute adjunct scholar Steven Milloy, “are the EPA’s disaster scenarios. They aren’t ‘worst case’–they’re pure fantasy.”

According to Milloy, EPA made numerous unrealistic assumptions in calculating potential chemical dispersions and resulting fatalities in a terrorist attack. “The agency, for example, pretended the wind would blow in a 360 degree radius from the site of a chemical release–that is, in all directions at the same time.”

EPA “assumes that every possible chemical container would be breached, releasing the maximum amount of chemicals, under the worst possible wind conditions, and that all safety and mitigation measures at the plant would fail,” noted Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“It’s like concluding that millions of Americans are at risk every day from airplanes because hijackers could seize every commercial airplane in the air at once, on the busiest air travel day of the year, and crash every one of them into the nation’s most populated buildings at their most vulnerable spots, when the buildings were fully populated and assuming that no one could evacuate the buildings.”

“The EPA’s worst-case scenarios are worthless as policymaking tools,” agreed Milloy. “Their only use, it seems, is to terrorize the public–and isn’t that part of what we’re fighting in the first place?”

Nevertheless, to the extent Inhofe-Miller avoids the extreme measures advocated in the Corzine measure, some free-market environmentalists welcome the bill.

Logomasini said the Inhofe bill is unnecessary, due in large part to aggressive security enhancements spearheaded by the American Chemistry Council and already in place. Nevertheless “the fact that [supporters of the Inhofe bill] are moving away from toxics use reduction (banning and phasing out chemicals) should be praised.

“If environmentalists were truly interested in security, they would back the Inhofe bill,” said Logomasini.

“But to get chemical plant security right,” added Milloy, “it seems that we’ll have to disinfect a debate already contaminated by bad facts and bad intentions.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].