- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

America’s airlines, ports and borders may be more secure than ever, but the nation’s chemical sector remains dangerously vulnerable to attack. Nearly four years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there still are no federal standards requiring chemical plants to assess their vulnerabilities and improve security.

No state or community is immune from the threat. Today, there are more than 15,000 industrial facilities in the United States producing, using or storing the 140 toxic and flammable chemicals classified as posing the greatest threat to human health and the environment if accidentally released into the air. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates an attack on any of 4,000 of these facilities could disastrously affect 1,000 or more people.

No wonder Richard A. Falkenrath, former deputy homeland security adviser to the White House, warned a Senate committee last week, “Of all the various remaining civilian vulnerabilities in America today, one stands alone as uniquely deadly, pervasive and susceptible to terrorist attack: toxic-inhalation-hazard industrial chemicals.”

This is because the laws today mostly address safety at chemical plants. The few existing security regulations were authored years before al Qaeda became a household word. While the DHS has begun refocusing the blurred lines of jurisdictional accountability for protecting America, it is hamstrung by lack of authority to secure the chemical sector.

As the White House cautioned in a report last year, “There is currently no clear, unambiguous legal or regulatory authority at the federal level to help ensure comprehensive, uniform security standards for chemical facilities.”

Faced with this threat and a lack of federal oversight, the chemical industry has initiated a voluntary program to increase security, but relatively few plants have adopted the standards.

To its credit, the DHS has provided chemical facilities financial assistance, training and security recommendations. But it is powerless to require the facilities to enhance security.

Given this, government agencies have been forced to use existing frameworks to determine vulnerabilities and push for increased security. For instance, Clean Air Act provisions have been enforced to require facilities holding specified quantities of hazardous chemicals to protect the public against accidental releases. The Maritime Transportation Security Act and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act also require vulnerability assessments and security plans for some facilities.

But a piecemeal approach to homeland security is what made America vulnerable to attack prior to September 11.

That is why I have introduced legislation, the proposed Chemical Facility Security Act, to close the security gaps, establish federal standards and help prevent terrorist attacks on the chemical industry. Most importantly, the bill mandates DHS to identify high-priority chemical facilities and require vulnerability assessments and security plans at those locations.

The legislation also enhances information sharing between government and industry while protecting against dissemination of security-related information and allows government to endorse voluntary industry initiatives meeting the highest standards. In addition, it prevents duplicative regulation by exempting facilities required to conduct assessments under current law.

The U.S. chemical industry produces essential products that help every American family, from creating lifesaving medicines to helping guarantee our nation has a safe water and food supply. The Chemical Facility Security Act seeks to meet the twin goal of securing the industry while not disrupting its ability to enhance our quality-of-life.

We owe it to the American people to prevent terrorists from exploiting our vulnerabilities and attacking our homeland. Congress and president have already taken significant action to shore up our security. But there is still work to be done, especially in enhancing chemical-sector protections.

My bill would establish the first federal standards for chemical-facilities security and remove one more target from the terrorists’ hit list.

Vito Fossella is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.

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