Inhofe: Chemical Security Is ‘Top Priority’

Published July 1, 2003

Underscoring the need to provide the greatest possible protection against terrorist attacks to the nation’s more than 1,500 chemical facilities, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has introduced the “Chemical Facilities Security Act of 2003.” Inhofe is chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.

Mandatory Safety Assessments

Cosponsored by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Georgia), the bill requires chemical facilities to complete vulnerability assessments and site security plans and imposes stiff penalties for companies that fail to comply with the law.

Inhofe noted the bill is the product of extensive discussions with security experts and has the support of the Bush administration. Both Inhofe and Miller emphasized the pivotal role the bill gives to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in implementing the legislation and developing standards to safeguard chemical plants from terrorist attacks.

Specifically, the Chemical Facilities Security Act of 2003 will:

  • Impose mandatory requirements on the chemical industry. According to the guidelines established in the bill, companies will be required to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans.
  • Authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to reject those plans if they are deemed inadequate to protect plants against terrorism. The secretary can require plant owners and operators to revise their plans and assessments to ensure adequate safety and protection.
  • Allow other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to provide DHS with technical support.
  • Require DHS to perform routine oversight of facilities to ensure compliance with the law.
  • Authorize the secretary of DHS to petition the courts for injunctive relief in cases where companies fail to comply, which in practice could temporarily shut down a facility.
  • Allow the secretary of DHS to impose civil penalties of $50,000 a day for each day a violation occurs and administrative penalties of up to $250,000.

Corzine Bill a Head-Fake

The Inhofe-Miller legislation stands in sharp contrast to the “Chemical Security Act” sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-New Jersey). Originally introduced in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and reintroduced (in modified form) earlier this year, the Corzine bill incorporates the anti-chemical tenets of liberal environmental activists into a bill ostensibly concerned with homeland security. The Corzine bill mandates the use of what it describes as “inherently safer technologies” in place of chemicals, whose use would be phased out or sharply reduced.

In calling for “inherently safer technologies,” Corzine is echoing a theme trumpeted by some radical environmentalists for years. More than a decade ago, Greenpeace spearheaded a campaign whose slogan was “Chlorine Free by ’93.” While Greenpeace failed in its bid to rid the U.S. of chlorine by 1993, its campaign against the chemical has continued unabated, with homeland security serving as the latest pretext.

Chlorine’s Role in Saving Lives

Because chlorine plays an essential role in public health and safety, any policy that would have as its goal a reduction in the use of chlorine would have a profound negative effect on society.

Chlorine-based disinfectants are used by 98 percent of modern water purification plants to make drinking water safe for human consumption. In addition, more than 85 percent of modern pharmaceuticals use chlorine in their manufacture. In medicine, its uses range from MRIs and other diagnostic devices to x-ray film, surgical tubing, and modern lightweight prosthetic limbs.

Iraq provides a chilling glimpse into a world devoid of chlorine. On April 29, UNICEF reported that, as a result of damage incurred during the recent war, pumping stations in southern Iraq were facing dwindling supplies of chlorine gas needed to purify water drawn from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Urging U.S.-led coalition forces to accelerate chlorine gas deliveries to the pumping stations, U.N. spokesman Marc Vergara warned 4 million Iraqis were in danger of having untreated water pumped into their homes. He told the Associated Press that drinking unsafe water could cause cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. “Diarrhea, which is annoying in the West, is deadly in this part of the world,” he said, adding diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among Iraqi children.

Protection of chemical plants from terrorist attacks is a key component of any strategy to provide for homeland security. But demonizing the chemicals stored in those facilities, with little thought to the societal consequences, is a sure way to undermine the very security Congress has been entrusted to provide.

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.