15 February 2002 22:41 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Two senior Democratic lawmakers have asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to conduct a "detailed review of the preparedness of chemical manufacturing plants against terrorism," CNI learned Friday.
Representatives John Dingell (Democrat-Michigan) and Frank Pallone (Democrat-New Jersey) requested the study after the Department of Justice (DoJ) disclosed it would not be able to meet a 5 August deadline for completing a report on chemical plant security.
In their letter to GAO, the research arm of Congress, Dingell and Pallone asked the office to answer a number of questions, such as what requirements for security preparedness were in existence before 11 September, and whether any new security requirements have been imposed on facilities since then.
In addition, they ask investigators whether the Bush administration has issued any new regulations for chemical manufacturing facilities regarding security and to determine which federal agency is the lead agency responsible for ensuring security.
Dingell, senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Pallone, ranking Democrat on the committee's environment and hazardous materials panel, requested the GAO study after a 13 February meeting with DoJ officials.
Congress directed DoJ to prepare a report on chemical plant vulnerabilities in a 1999 law, the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act.
The measure called for an interim report by December 2000 - a deadline that was also missed - and a final report by 5 August 2002.
A congressional source said DoJ has not conducted any evaluations. "They have told us they do not intend to comply with the final deadline, which is incredible in light of the obvious threats we have in this country from terrorism," he said.
In their letter, Dingell and Pallone also asked GAO to determine the status of the chemical plant vulnerability report.
A DoJ spokesman said the department has not been able to complete the study because Congress has not provided the funding - a total of about $7m (Euro8m) - to do it.
In fiscal 2001, DoJ was appropriated $600 000 to complete a related report detailing a methodology for conducting assessments of facility security. The report, which has been developed by the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory, is under review at DoJ and will be submitted to Congress "within the next several weeks," according to the DoJ spokesman.
In its fiscal 2003 budget request, the Bush administration asked Congress to provide $3m for chemical plant vulnerability assessments, which the DoJ spokesman said would all go toward completing the report required under the 1999 law.
He added that DoJ is in the process of determining what parts of the assessment methodology developed by Sandia should be made public.
"There may be some issues that are addressed that may not be in our best interest to put them in the public domain," he said.
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