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June 21 2007

Government & Policy

House Passes DHS Spending Bill

State chemical security laws stricter than federal standards could not be preempted

Glenn Hess

The House has approved a fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that includes a provision permitting states and local governments to enact chemical plant security regulations that are more stringent than federal standards.

The 2008 Homeland Security Appropriations Act was approved by a vote of 268 to 150 on June 15. The $36.3 billion budget measure has drawn a veto threat from the White House because it exceeds President George W. Bush's request for the department by $2.1 billion.

The White House also objects to language added to the bill that would allow state and local regulations to exceed federal rules on chemical plant security, saying the provision could conflict with or hinder DHS's own security requirements.

Similar language is included in the Senate version of the legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $37.6 billion DHS spending bill on June 14, which would prohibit DHS from preempting state rules.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) says the provision he authored would preserve the right of states "to craft stronger chemical security laws than the federal government if they deem those laws necessary to protect their residents."

In April, DHS issued an interim final chemical plant security rule that gave the department the authority to block state or local requirements if they conflict with or "frustrate the purpose" of the federal program.

Lautenberg claims his proposal on chemical security responds to "a vigorous campaign from chemical industry lobbyists who fought the ability of states to enact stronger laws than the federal government."

The American Chemistry Council, which represents major U.S. chemical manufacturers, supports the DHS regulation and says further action by Congress is unnecessary. The department has struck a "necessary and reasonable balance" on possible preemption of state and local laws, and is following the precedent set by existing national security laws for aviation, nuclear, rail, and port security, according to the organization.

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