- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chemical facilities are among the nation’s most vulnerable targets in the war on terrorism and proper security might require congressional action, a senator said yesterday.

“We often hear the phrases ‘time bombs’ and ‘Achilles’ heel.’ At first glance, these metaphors seem apt. In truth, however, they miss the mark,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Time bombs succeed in their deadly work because they are hidden; the intended victims do not know of their existence until it is too late. These chemical facilities are not hidden. We know they exist. We know precisely where they are and what they contain. So do the terrorists,” Miss Collins said.

Robert Stephan, Homeland Security Department acting undersecretary for infrastructure protection, and Thomas P. Dunne, Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator for emergency response, told the committee that larger chemical plants fall under federal guidance, but smaller companies do not.

They agreed that Congress needs to enact legislation to initiate a regulated security system for chemical plants nationwide.

Mr. Stephan said the department has worked closely with federal, state and local officials to secure the facilities while the EPA has kept a mostly supporting role.

The EPA has recorded roughly 15,000 facilities nationwide that produce, use or store hazardous chemicals, but Homeland Security has assessed only 3,400 that could sustain enough damage in an attack to endanger an area with a population of more than 1,000.

Of these facilities, Mr. Stephan said, a small percentage are federally regulated or voluntarily adhere to proper standards.

Mr. Dunne commended the companies that have taken stricter security measures but said, “We cannot be sure that every high-risk chemical facility has taken voluntary action to secure itself against terrorism.”

Miss Collins said previous efforts to enact security regulations for chemical facilities have failed because of a lack of support from Congress and the Bush administration.

She said the remarks from Mr. Stephan and Mr. Dunne were the administration’s first public acknowledgments that federal regulations are needed to protect chemical facilities, and added that she hoped to obtain White House help in drafting bipartisan legislation.

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