US Senator Lautenberg to move new site security bill

04 December 2009 19:57  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) will introduce legislation early next year to increase antiterrorism security at US chemical plants and to reduce use of toxic substances, his office said on Friday.

A spokesman for Lautenberg said the senator’s plans for a chemical facility security bill have not yet been spelled out in any detail, but his legislation likely would address such issues as inherently safer technology (IST) requirements and the rights of states to have their own chemical security requirements.

Noting that this week marked the 25th anniversary of the December 1984 chemical disaster at Bhopal, India, that killed 7,000 residents and sickened thousands more, Lautenberg was quoted as saying that “We must take steps to protect chemical facilities now”.

In the Bhopal tragedy, methyl isocyanate gas was released from a Union Carbide pesticide plant. As many as 25,000 people may have perished ultimately due to the release.

While the cause of the incident remains in dispute, its horrific consequences suggest to policymakers what might happen if large volumes of toxic substances were released in a densely populated area as a result of a terrorist attack on a chemical plant.

“We have a responsibility to reduce the use of dangerous chemicals and keep our families and communities safe from potential attacks against these facilities,” Lautenberg said.

Lautenberg has previously introduced chemical facility security legislation, including a bill offered in 2006 with then-Senator Barack Obama. Those measures did not advance in Congress, then under Republican majority control.

The New Jersey senator has been critical of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that resulted from language in the 2006 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, charging that the administration of President George W Bush tried to use those provisions to pre-empt state regulation of security at chemical plants.

Noting the high concentration of chemical production capacity in New Jersey, Lautenberg’s spokesman said the senator “is currently working on a bill to ensure strong protections are in place to secure chemical facilities in our neighbourhoods”.

The existing CFATS statute expires next year.

Although not a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, where a final Senate bill to replace CFATS is likely to take shape, Lautenberg would likely introduce his measure through the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he is chairman of that panel’s subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health.

Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also is drafting legislation to replace CFATS.  He too is said by aides to favour an IST mandate, states rights and some role for private lawsuits in security enforcement.

The US House approved a new chemical facility antiterrorism measure earlier this year. That bill would have to be reconciled with whatever site security legislation the Senate produces next year.

Lautenberg also is expected to take a leading role next year in anticipated legislation to update and modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal US law for the control of chemicals in commerce.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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