When It Comes to Safeguarding Chemical Facilities, the EPA is No Defense Department

The so-called “Chemical Security Act” recently introduced by Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) is laboring under a monstrous misnomer.

By essentially placing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of security requirement at the nation’s private and public chemical facilities, the bill would be better named “Terrorist’s Guide to Vulnerable U.S. Chemical Plants Act.” The EPA’s record of keeping national security is abysmal and Corzine should know it.

Earlier this summer, the radical environmental group Greenpeace posted color maps on the Internet showing chemical plants near large U.S. cities. The group claimed terrorist attacks on them would shroud the surrounding area in a deadly mist of toxic ingredients.

One of the plants most prominently publicized was a Kuehne Chemical bleach factory in South Kearney, N.J., a few miles from Manhattan and in Corzine’s home state.

Greenpeace said a terrorist attack on the Kuehne facility could unleash a cloud of chlorine and sulfur that might cover a radius of 25 miles and jeopardize the lives of health of some 12 million people.

The remaining leaders of Al Qaeda, presumably as at home on the Internet as they are in a homemade bomb factory, could well have taken notes and pulled down Greenpeace’s website maps. Nothing quite like having a peace-loving environmental group, however unintentionally, chart your next terrorist act for you, is there?

One possible reason the New Jersey facility hasn’t been attacked is that it beefed up security after its employees watched the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapse.

Peter Kuehne, the company’s chief operating officer, said its plants have stringent safety and security standards in place, and the only release of toxic chemicals from the facilities would come from precisely the airborne-type of assault Greenpeace’s maps could help.

Ironically, the Greenpeace map collection was obtained from the EPA’s own web site. Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, all companies that stored hazardous chemicals were required to submit to the EPA a detailed report on what the “worst-case scenario” might be in the event of a terrorist attack or an accidental spill.

A prudent agency would have scrutinized the reports and recommended precautionary steps to the companies as warranted. But the EPA under the Clinton Administration apparently cared more about scoring points with environmental activists than protecting Americans.

Carol Browner, the EPA chief at the time, decided to post the material on the Internet in the waning days of the Clinton Administration, despite the warning given by the first World Trade Center bombing and subsequent lethal terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies, military installations and naval ships.

At the time, Browner said she ignored such warning signals because she believed making the data available on the Internet would force companies to seek to use less toxic materials in their products.

Although the FBI managed to persuade a reluctant EPA bureaucracy to remove the toxic chemical disclosures, the data and maps were downloaded by Greenpeace and posted on its website.

While Browner is no longer in office, Corzine appears ready to carry on her jihad against chemical companies. He is pushing an amendment to the Homeland Security Act that significantly expands the EPA’s role in overseeing sites containing hazardous materials.

Under the “inherently safer technologies” clause, new authority would be granted to the EPA to micro-manage industrial processes and substances.

Corzine apparently has embraced the environmental movement’s cardinal doctrine that all so-called “toxic” chemicals are inherently bad and should be phased out as quickly as possible.

Yet, when properly controlled, “toxic” chemicals are necessary and safe part of any modern industrial society. Chlorine, which Greenpeace and its allies targeted for extinction more than a decade ago, is used with no ill effects to purify our drinking water, our swimming pools and our sewage disposal plants.

When it comes to homeland security, EPA officials are by neither inclination nor training on par with our national security team. Compared to security at the Department of Defense, the reams of sensitive corporate information that Corzine’s Chemical Security Act would ship into the EPA would leave the agency through leaks and freedom of information requests faster than the turn of a revolving door.

The Senate should recognize the Corzine proposal for what it is – an effort better suited at currying favor with environmentalists than at protecting chemical plants, public safety or homeland security. In time of war, the information Corzine proposes to hand to the EPA for possible further dissemination belongs under lock-and-key in the classified section at the Pentagon and not subject to political hijackings.


Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. 

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.