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  Latest News  
  June 20,  2005
Volume 83, Number 25
p. 13


  Plant Security May Get Boost
Bush Administration calls for chemical plant security bill but offers few details

Stephan Durbin
The Bush Administration will step up efforts to develop mandatory antiterrorism security measures for the chemical industry, a Department of Homeland Security official separately told House and Senate homeland security committees on June 15.

Robert B. Stephan, DHS assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, who spoke at both hearings, was repeatedly asked for legislative details, but he said he lacked the authority to provide them. DHS would have a proposal for Congress to consider within a few weeks, he said, adding that "a regulatory regime may still be evolving [within DHS] at this time."

Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) promised an accelerated legislative schedule--including hearings involving chemical company representatives, security experts, and environmental groups--and the introduction of legislation in September. Republican leadership of the House Homeland Security Committee voiced no such urgency or schedule when Stephan appeared at the House hearing later in the day.

Stephan said any legislation should include a menu of options for companies to use to meet security requirements, and he strongly backed the American Chemistry Council's self-run security program. That program is likely to be the basis of DHS's approach to plant security, according to DHS staff.

Half of some 2,000 ACC member plants have taken some level of security measures based on self-determination of their vulnerability to a terrorist attack. ACC's 132 member companies have spent about $2 billion on security over three years, Martin J. Durbin, ACC security director, told the House subcommittee. He warned that without a national program, states were likely to institute a patchwork of conflicting security requirements. At least three states have already acted on their own.

However, Sal DePasquale, a security consultant with CH2M Hill who helped develop ACC's program, warned House members that it is based on "guidelines" and should be strengthened through legislation with "prescriptive standards" that companies must meet.

Although mum on legislative particulars, Stephan said DHS has conducted its own chemical industry security analysis and drastically reduced the Environmental Protection Agency's number of facilities of concern. An EPA review had identified 15,000 facilities as potential security threats because they handle large amounts of dangerous chemicals in populated areas. EPA found some 123 facilities where more than 1 million people could be injured or killed in the event of a terrorist attack.

But through modeling, DHS has trimmed the number to 3,400 facilities, Stephan said, only 20% of which are not covered by some form of security program. He estimated that DHS could conduct or oversee security assessments at these facilities without adding staff or funds.

He acknowledged, however, that DHS has conducted on-site visits of only 38 chemical plants. The need for legislation was underscored when he noted that the department had been refused entry at several facilities.

"In the case of chemical plant security legislation," Collins said, "the devil truly will be in the details." She noted that President George W. Bush has voiced support for chemical plant security legislation twice before, but no follow-through has emerged from the Administration.

The Senate has debated chemical plant security legislation for nearly four years with deep disagreements, particularly over enforcement and provisions encouraging the use of less toxic materials and technologies.

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2005

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