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August 12, 2002
Volume 80, Number 32
CENEAR 80 32 p. 7
ISSN 0009-2347


EPA to issue guidelines, regulation, visit plants near highly populated areas


The Environmental Protection Agency has developed site security guidelines for chemical makers and facilities that use and store hazardous substances. But questions about the plan's legality have delayed its announcement.

MAJOR CHALLENGE Ensuring the security of U.S. chemical facilities, large and small, is the aim of EPA.
The guidelines would direct chemical facilities to assess their vulnerability to attack and then tighten their security. Eventually, the guidelines would become mandatory under a new Clean Air Act regulation, according to a draft of the EPA plan.

After releasing the guidance, EPA would visit some 30 "high-priority chemical facilities" located near population centers to discuss current and planned security at the sites, the draft says. And it would work with industry on the feasibility of switching from hazardous chemicals to less toxic ones or to a different technology.

The agency is "pretty close" to unveiling its plan, which has been essentially finished for at least two months, says a senior EPA official who spoke under the condition that he not be named. However, the Bush Administration is still debating whether the agency has the legal authority to carry out the plan, he tells C&EN.

The White House Office of Homeland Security has backed EPA's planned guidelines and regulations, he says. However, OHS did not return calls seeking confirmation.

The EPA official says the planned guidance takes into account the efforts that are under way by the American Chemistry Council to upgrade plant security and will "give credit for early action." As part of its Responsible Care code of corporate conduct, ACC--the trade association of large chemical manufacturers--has drawn up criteria for plant site security that its members must abide by (C&EN, April 22, page 18). "Their efforts definitely informed what we're doing," the EPA official says.

The planned guidance would not interfere in the ACC members' efforts, the EPA official says. "The last thing we want to do is get in the way of progress."

But ACC represents only about 1,000 of the 15,000 chemical sites of concern to EPA. The agency's planned guidance on chemical site security, the official explains, is directed at those 15,000 facilities that store hazardous chemicals in amounts that require them to file, under the Clean Air Act, risk management plans designed to assist emergency responders in case of an accidental release.

Chris VandenHeuvel, an ACC spokesman, tells C&EN that federal officials have repeatedly told the industry group that the EPA guidelines were coming out within weeks. However, the deadline has continually slipped, he says.

ACC won't comment on the EPA plan until the final version is released, VandenHeuvel says. He expects that some company or group--but probably not ACC--will challenge EPA's action in court by arguing that the Clean Air Act does not expressly authorize the agency to address security at chemical facilities.

The EPA official says that the Bush Administration believes the EPA plan would obviate the need for legislation to address chemical site security, such as S. 1602--a bill recently approved by a Senate committee (C&EN July 29, page 8). The Administration considered--but apparently rejected--draft legislation to amend the Clean Air Act that would clarify EPA's authority to regulate chemical site security.

An Administration analysis of EPA's plan says the agency would generally not take possession of "sensitive information" about plant security. For any information it does get, the agency would either classify the information or claim an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for it.


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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[C&EN, Jul. 29, 2002]

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