- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called for government regulation of chemical plant security yesterday but said the industry should come up with its own protective measures, to be verified by private auditors.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the chemical industry, Mr. Chertoff said Congress needs to act quickly to give his department regulatory authority to bolster facilities that are attractive targets for terrorists. But he said federal regulations must be flexible to prevent harsh burdens on business.

“We ought to say to the industry, ‘Look, here’s where we need to go,’ ” Mr. Chertoff said. ” ‘Now, there are a lot of different roads to get there. And you can choose the road that best fits your particular kind of chemical, or your particular type of operation. We’re not going to micromanage. What we do insist, though, is that you get to the place you need to be.’ ”

Mr. Chertoff said he envisioned performance standards, set by the Homeland Security Department, for chemical companies to follow. Those standards would not require specific safeguards, such as gates and guards, but would force the industry to develop adequate security plans at all manufacturing and storage facilities.

Those standards could be validated by private auditors contracted with Homeland Security, Mr. Chertoff said.

Congress is considering legislation for federal regulation of the nation’s 15,000 privately operated chemical facilities, which counterterror analysts have warned are at the top of the list of likely terror targets. Congressional investigators have revealed spotty results in how well the chemical industry is prepared to respond in the event of an attack.

The leading bill, by Sens. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, would give Homeland Security authority to shut down plants that fail to submit acceptable security plans.

Large chemical corporations quickly applauded Mr. Chertoff’s proposals, which were aimed mostly at small firms that have resisted installing security because of high costs.

“What we’re doing at Dow falls very much in line with what the secretary was talking about,” said Tim Scott, chief security officer at the Dow Chemical Co. “We approach security from a risk-management perspective, and we try to identify the right level of risk and the right approach to reduce that risk at all of our sites.”

Mr. Chertoff said he did not think any regulation should require the chemical industry to use certain kinds of substances that would be less dangerous to the public in an attack or accidental release, as environmentalists have demanded.

But with one-fifth of the nation’s chemical plants located close to cities and other heavily populated areas, “there isn’t any security that would be good enough” against the threat of a hazardous toxic release, Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign, said Monday. “A small plane or a high-powered weapon would bypass any gate or fence.”

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