11 July 2002 18:10 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--The US director of homeland security told Congress on Thursday that legislation to enhance security at chemical plant sites may not be necessary because the industry is taking voluntary action to protect its facilities and employees.
Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, said the Bush White House hopes to avoid legislation and believes the chemical industry has recognised it has an obligation to increase security.
Ridge included those comments in testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee where he appeared to answer questions about President George W Bush's proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security.
In response, Senator Jon Corzine (Democrat-New Jersey) expressed concern that not all facilities that manufacture, use, or store toxic chemicals will take the necessary precautions on their own and reiterated his support for legislation that would require the industry to increase safety and security.
Legislation sponsored by Corzine would authorise the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require companies to take certain security measures wherever the agency finds an "imminent and substantial endangerment from a potential accidental or criminal release."
Ridge told Corzine that while his concerns are "well founded," there is "a different environment" in the US since the terrorist attacks of last September.
He said: "There is an acceptance (by industry) of a greater financial responsibility for them to enhance their security. We would like to avoid legislation, but we need to keep our options open."
In May, EPA drafted legislation that would have required about 15 000 chemical facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments, document the results and then take appropriate measures to improve security.
But an EPA official in late June confirmed that the agency likely would issue the measures as voluntary guidelines rather than send legislation to Capitol Hill.
Ridge acknowledged the change in position, saying it "reflects an acceptance by industry of a need to do a better job of security their facilities."
He said: "This is a cost (chemical companies) have to absorb. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their employees, their shareholders and the community."
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