21 June 2002 19:12 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--House Republicans are urging Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to adopt a "comprehensive framework" for assessing the vulnerabilities to terrorist attack of critical US infrastructure, including chemical plants, CNI learned Friday.
In a 19 June letter to Ridge, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (Republican-Louisiana) and senior committee Republicans expressed concern that reporting requirements under federal environmental laws could give potential terrorists easy access to critical data about US chemical processing, electricity generation, fuel production, and other key resources.
"Potential targets of terrorism, such as large manufacturing and storage facilities, should be adequately protected, but we must ensure that vulnerability assessments are never allowed to be used as road maps for terrorist action," the lawmakers wrote.
They said: "We must provide adequate legal protection for such documents to shield them from improper public disclosure."
Much of the data industry is required to report under the Clean Air Act and other statutes is available to the public, some of it over the Internet. More information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Environmentalists often use FOIA to compel government agencies to release certain information, which they use to track industry's compliance with clean air and water regulations.
President George W Bush's proposal to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security would exempt certain government data from the FOIA.
Ridge is expected to testify 25 June about the administration's plans for protecting key US infrastructure. Tauzin also has asked the General Accounting Office - the research arm of Congress - to study the issue.
Government efforts to further restrict public access to information about chemical hazards have been sharply criticised by environmentalists.
"Taking this information out of public view and burying our heads in the sand means significantly undermining chemical accident prevention in the US, a dangerous proposal for a country that sees hundreds of lives lost to chemical accidents every years," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate with the US Public Interest Research Group.
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