12 September 2002 21:43 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (CNI)--Republican members of the Senate Environmental Public Works Committee have withdrawn their support for a controversial chemical plant security bill, saying the proposal sponsored by Senator Jon Corzine (Democrat-New Jersey) "severely misses the mark," CNI learned Thursday.
In a letter to their colleagues, Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire and the committee's six other Republican members rejected Corzine's assertion that his bill has the unanimous, bipartisan support of the panel.
"On 25 July, we supported the reporting of this bill from the committee with every expectation that continued discussions would reach successful conclusions," the Republican senators wrote.
They said the legislation, as approved by the committee, does not address all of the concerns that were expressed during debate on the measure, such as human resource needs, distribution of sensitive site vulnerability information, and incentives for early action on the part of companies.
"Some letters and statements in recent days have implied that there have been successful discussions on these and other issues. However, it is important that we clear the air: While these discussions have been constructive and are still ongoing they have not been successful as of yet," the senators charged.
If Corzine offers his legislation as an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 pending on the Senate floor, the Republicans said they would offer a variety of amendments to address their concerns.
The senators suggested that if the measure is brought up for consideration, they would attempt to kill it by engaging in prolonged debate.
"We would feel compelled to offer amendments to address concerns regarding agricultural operations, fire emergency prevention and mitigation, consolidation of national security responsibility, overlapping government authorities, and others that have arisen from scores of stakeholders upon thoughtful consideration of this legislation."
The Republicans said they "wholeheartedly support the goal of ensuring the security of our nation's chemical infrastructure," but "will not let Congress's chance to address such a critical issue miss the mark and possibly hurt our nation in the process."
An aide to Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), one of the letter's signatories, said Republicans also would offer an amendment to Corzine's bill that would allow "credit for work that already might have been done" by the chemical industry through voluntary security efforts.
As heavy lobbying continued today on both sides of the issue, a spokesman for Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (Democrat-Connecticut) said "no decision has been made" as to whether he would support attaching the Corzine bill to the homeland security legislation.
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