Inhofe Makes “Chemical Security” From Terrorists a Top Priority

Underscoring the need to provide the nation’s over 1,500 chemical facilities with the greatest possible protection against terrorist attacks, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has introduced the “Chemical Facilities Security Act of 2003.” Inhofe is chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.

Co-sponsored by Senator Zell Miller (D-GA), the bill requires chemical facilities to complete vulnerability assessments and site security plans and imposes stiff penalties for companies that fail to comply with the law.

In introducing his bill, Inhofe pointed out that the legislation is the product of extensive discussions with security experts and has the support of the Bush Administration. Both Inhofe and Miller emphasized the pivotal role the bill gives to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in implementing the legislation and developing standards to safeguard chemical plants from terrorist attacks.

Specifically, the Chemical Facilities Security Act of 2003 will:

* Impose mandatory requirements on the chemical industry. According to the guidelines established in the bill, companies will be required to conduct vulnerability assessments and security plans.

* Authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to reject those plans if they are deemed inadequate to protect plants against terrorism. The secretary can require plant owners and operators to revise their plans and assessments to ensure adequate safety and protection.

* Allow other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to provide DHS with technical support.

* Require DHS to perform routine oversight of facilities to ensure compliance with the law.

* Authorize the secretary of DHS to petition the courts for injunction relief in cases where companies fail to comply, which in practice could temporarily could shut down a facility.

* Allow the secretary of DHS to impose civil penalties of $50,000 a day for each day a violation occurs and administrative penalties of up to $250,000.

The Inhofe-Miller legislation stands in sharp contrast to the “Chemical Security Act” sponsored by Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ). Originally introduced in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and reintroduced (in modified form) earlier this year, the Corzine bill incorporates the anti-chemical tenets of modern environmentalism into a bill ostensibly concerned with homeland security. The Corzine bill mandates the use of what it describes as “inherently safer technologies” in place of chemicals, whose use would be phased out or sharply reduced.

In calling for “inherently safer technologies,” Corzine is echoing a theme that has been trumpeted by environmentalists for years. Over a decade ago, Greenpeace spearheaded a campaign whose slogan was “Chlorine Free by ’93.” While Greenpeace failed in its bid to rid the U.S. of chlorine by 1993, the campaign against the chemical has continued unabated, with the homeland security concerns serving as the latest pretext.

Chlorine is the building block of modern chemical applications. Chlorine-based disinfectants are used by 98 percent of modern water purification plants to make drinking water safe for human consumption by killing a wide range of bacteria and viruses. In addition, more than 85 percent of modern pharmaceuticals use chlorine in their manufacture. In medicine, its uses range from MRIs and other diagnostic devices to X-ray film surgical tubing and modern light-weight prosthetic limbs. And these are just a sampling of the many products containing chlorine or chlorine-based chemicals. In light of the essential role chlorine plays in maintaining public health and safety, any policy which would have as its goal the reduction in the use of chlorine would have a profound effect on society.

Iraq provides a chilling glimpse into a world devoid of modern chemicals. On April 29, UNICEF reported that, as a result of damage incurred during the recent war, pumping stations in southern Iraq were facing dwindling supplies of chlorine gas needed to purify water drawn from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Urging U.S.-led coalition forces to accelerate chlorine gas deliveries to the pumping stations, UN spokesman Marc Vergara warned that four million Iraqis were in danger of having untreated water pumped into their homes. He told the Associated Press that drinking unsafe water could cause cholera, dysentery and diarrhea. “Diarrhea, which is annoying in the West, is deadly in this part of the world,” he said, adding that it was one of the biggest killers of Iraqi children.

Protection of chemical plants from terrorist attacks is a key component of any comprehensible strategy to provide for homeland security. But demonizing the chemicals stored in these facilities, with little thought given to the societal consequences of meshing modern environmentalism with public health and safety, is a sure way to undermine the very security Congress has been entrusted to provide.


Bonner Cohen is a senior fellow with The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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.