Coalition Encourages Passage of 'Effective' Chemical Security Law

Philip J. Crowley, director of Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, encouraged a House of Representatives subcommittee to strengthen chemical security in the United States during testimony on June 12.

Before the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, Crowley said he represents a broad coalition of organizations that have come together to support permanent, comprehensive, and effective chemical security legislation.

"Chemical facilities and their supply chains fit the existing targeting strategy of al Qaeda," Crowley said. "Insurgents in Iraq have made multiple attempts to convert chlorine gas tanker trucks into improvised weapons.

This is no longer a theoretical risk. Industrial chemicals are now part of the terrorist playbook. Business as usual is no longer acceptable. Our homeland security policy goal should be to reduce the terrorists’ ability to exploit chemicals as a weapon to the maximum extent possible," he added.

Congress passed an interim chemical security law in 2006 that has resulted in emerging Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards. CFATS improves the physical security of the status quo, but expires in 2009 and is not comprehensive, Crowley said. Drinking water facilities are specifically exempted from stronger security standards.

Crowley noted that H.R. 5577, while not perfect, is a more effective security standard and a good benchmark for drinking water facilities. It requires chemical facilities to evaluate alternative methods that can be employed to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack. For drinking water facilities, this commonly involves a shift from the use of chlorine gas to liquid bleach. Facility operators are free to evaluate a range of options. Any action considered must reduce risk to the facility; must be performance-based, technically feasible, and cost effective.

The legislation focuses on the entire chemical supply chain, gives employees at chemical plants an important role in developing vulnerability assessments and security plans, provides important worker protections, and promotes proper training.

"Stronger security standards for drinking water facilities will involve additional costs. Our research at the Center for American Progress suggests that these costs are manageable, particularly taking into account potential savings, such as reduced requirements for security guards, protective equipment, emergency planning, insurance costs, and so forth," Crowley explained. "But given the uncertain budget picture that many cities and states are facing, the federal government must be prepared to provide substantial funds to support this legislation."

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