- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Attention has recently focused on a dangerous hole in the homeland security net, the lax security at American chemical plants. While Congressional action may be part of the solution, legislators should enact policies that add to security instead of simply providing an illusion of safety.

Last Sunday, a 60 Minutes expose by Steve Kroft showed the anchor and his camera crew walking unchallenged through the gate of a chemical facility near Pittsburgh. They were accompanied by Carl Prine, an investigative reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Since September 11, 2001, Mr. Prine has walked unchallenged onto the grounds of sixty chemical plants in several major urban areas. This week, CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve did a three-part series showing the same glaring holes.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) looked into this matter earlier this year. Its report noted that although the members of industrial associations have taken many voluntary measures, significant vulnerabilities remain. One reason is that only a fraction of chemical facilities fall under the auspices of those organization for instance, members of the American Chemistry Council operate only about 1,000 of the 15,000 plants potentially at risk.

Two bills have been offered to remedy the situation, one cosponsored by Sens. James Inhofe and Zell Miller, the other sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine. Mr. Inhofe’s bill (S.994) would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to assess vulnerabilities, set standards and certify compliance. Mr. Corzine’s measure (as amended last April) would give such authority jointly to the DHS and the EPA.

The Corzine bill also calls for chemical plants to use “inherently safer technology,” (IST) an innocuous-sounding phrase which could prove problematic in practice. After all, there is almost no such thing as an inherently safe chemical, and the mandate might be used to prohibit the use of valuable chemicals. In addition, industry representatives su8ggested to GAO investigators that although IST mandates might do more to transfer risks than resolve security problems, since reduction in chemical inventories would result in greater numbers of chemical shipments.

Still, it is evident from the unguarded gates and flawed fences around chemical plants that something must be done to improve security. DHS Secretary Tom Ridge has stated on several occasions that the voluntary measures currently in place will not be sufficient to ensure appropriate levels of security.

Yet when Congress acts on this matter as it should it would be wise to do so in a way that actually improves chemical plant security. As Mr. Inhofe told Ms. Meserve, “The EPA is not in the security business. The Department of Homeland Secuirity is….Who would you rather look after your security, Greenpeace or Navy Seals?” To end, Mr. Inhofe’s measure offers a much better means than the one championed by Mr. Corzine.

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