05 December 2005 00:01 [Source: ICB Americas]
New Jersey has become the first US state to impose antiterrorism security measures on chemical facilities, an action that raises a harrowing prospect for chemical firms nationwide who fear a broadening patchwork of varying state-security mandates.
Under an executive order put in force last week, New Jersey’s acting governor, Richard Codey, required the 160 or so chemical plants in his state to make new assessments of their vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
The chemical plants have until March 29 to complete the assessments, which must include reviews of security systems and access to facility grounds, security measures outside the facility perimeter that could be improved, storage and processing vulnerabilities, and employee and contractor background checks.
In addition, the governor said that 43 of the state’s chemical facilities must take further steps to “review the potential for adopting inherently safer technology.” Advocates of inherently safer technology (IST) want chemical firms to use less-volatile feedstocks and alternative production processes with lower temperatures and less pressure; most industry officials argue that IST is simply impractical.
“We must explore any measure—including the possibility of using inherently safer technology—to better protect us from uncertainty,” Codey said. “We will work with New Jersey businesses to ensure that this initiative improves security and emergency response plans at each chemical facility.”
Further, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold two public hearings to enable public and labor union input on what measures chemical companies should implement to make terrorist attacks less likely to succeed.
A DEP spokesman said that after the assessments are completed early next year, it may order specific plants to implement antiterrorism security measures.
New Jersey’s unilateral action is not likely to trigger an immediate, similar response from many other states. However, as a first step in that direction, New Jersey’s initiative seriously worries chemical companies.
The state’s action may serve to spur efforts in Congress to complete work on a federal chemical plant site security bill. The Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee is well advanced in drafting what is described as a very large and comprehensive chemical plant security measure.
That bill may well contain a preemption clause that would override state laws dealing with site security. But such a clause could lead to years of litigation and still leave chemical producers in New Jersey with the obligation to meet differing state and federal site security regulations.
There is also no guarantee that the security bill in progress in the Senate will be passed by Congress.
For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.
Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.