22 April 2002 19:48 [Source: ICIS news]
SAN FRANCISCO (CNI)--Chemicals officials, other business representatives and environmentalists were gathering Monday at the California state capitol in Sacramento for tomorrow's opening hearing on sweeping new legislation to track hazardous materials.
The measure, Assembly Bill 2479, is to receive its first hearing Tuesday before the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, which is chaired by the bill's author, Hannah-Beth Jackson (Democrat-Santa Barbara).
"Pretty much the entire business community is lining up against it," Stephen Murrill, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of California (CICC), told CNI Monday. Some state agencies have voiced concerns as well, and any business with chemicals stored on its site stands to be affected by the measure unless the chemicals are so benign as to cause no worries, Murrill said.
Jackson introduced the measure on 21 February following release of a report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG), saying storage of toxic materials in or near residential communities puts millions of Californians at risk and calling for manufacturers to reduce their use of hazardous chemicals or to use safer chemicals or processes. Another influential environmental group, the Sierra Club, is aligned with Jackson and CalPIRG on the issue.
Californians' concerns over the storage and transportation of hazardous materials have been increased considerably in the wake of last September's terrorist attacks.
Virtually all stakeholders - manufacturers, storage and transportation providers, seaports, airports and law-enforcement agencies - have launched programs to strengthen security at plants and storage sites. But according to the CalPIRG report, adding guards, heightening fences and other security-enhancing measures afford no protection from hijacked planes or truck bombs.
CICC and other industry groups "don't think the bill addresses the immediacy of the issue of site security," Murrill said. Moreover, AB 2479 "ignores what is already being done by the chemical industry across the country," he said, and it could conflict with and even stymie progress that has already occurred.
For example, he said, the measure sets a three- to four-year time line for implementing security measures, while the industry is already developing a site-prioritisation program that it expects to release this June.
Under the industry program, Murrill said, companies are to develop a "security-risk" index, looking at the probability of attacks on their sites, the possible severity of such attacks and the relative "attractiveness" of their sites as targets.
Industry officials disagree with the general approach of AB 2479, which is "to look at [specific] chemicals instead of looking at vulnerabilities of and threats to infrastructures, processes and security measures," Murrill said.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is due to release the site-security code component of its Responsible Care program this week, he said. The ACC is conducting a Responsible Care Conference in Miami, Florida.
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