Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Chemical Plant InSecurity

More on chemical insecurity from the Progressive. I've written several times before about Senator Jon Corzine's (D-NJ) attempt to pass a bill address chemical security issues. Corzine's bill, initially introduced following 9/11, would have required companies using large amounts of dangerous chemicals to consider "inherently safer technologies.

As you may recall, following unanimous Senate committee approval of the Corzine bill,
An alarmed chemical industry sprang into action, "mounting daily assaults on the Republican members of the [Environment and Public Works] committee throughout August," reported John Judis in The New Republic last January. An August 29, 2002, letter, signed by thirty members of the chemical and oil industry lobby and sent to Republican members of the committee, deplored the new bill, particularly its proposal to "grant sweeping new authority to EPA to oversee facility security." The lobbyists objected strongly to a particular provision that would have required plants to use "inherently safer technologies." This would "allow government micromanagement in mandating substitutions of all processes and substances," the letter stated, adding that it could "result in increased security risks."

By September 10, seven out of the nine Republican members on the committee bowed to the pressure, issuing a letter against the Corzine bill, claiming it "severely misses the mark" (emphasis in the original).

During that same summer, members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) "gave more than $1 million in political contributions, most of it to Republicans. Eight Senators who were critical of the Corzine bill have received more than $850,000 from the ACC and its member companies," according to a Common Cause report dated January 27, 2003.
Not only did the EPA, the White House and Congress succumb to chemical industry pressure, but the Department of Transportation caved as well.

Toxic chemicals are regularly transported through well-populated areas. DOT had proposed to address this problem through a regulation stating that "Routes should minimize product exposures to populated areas and avoid tunnels and bridges, where possible."

The chemical and petroleum industry successfull lobbyed to remove this language:
"There's nothing really in there that says anything about restricting transport at any time," says Hind. He expected the rule at least to require constraints on dangerous chemicals in heavily populated areas during orange alerts. "But they didn't even do that," he says.

In September, the Sierra Club photographed a rail tank car carrying chlorine near the U.S. Capitol. Greenpeace took notice. "We are formally requesting immediate action by the Secret Service to address a near and present danger to the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and all other national leaders living and working in Washington, D.C.," Rick Hind, legislative director for the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign wrote to the Secret Service. By the EPA's own worst-case estimates, a leak from one ninety-ton rail car of chlorine could kill or injure "people in the Congress, the White House, and any of 2.4 million local residents within fourteen miles," Hind wrote.

Greenpeace isn't the only one raising alarms. On June 20, FBI Special Agent Troy Morgan, a specialist on weapons of mass destruction, addressed a chemical security summit in Philadelphia. "You've heard about sarin and other chemical weapons in the news," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But it's far easier to attack a rail car full of toxic industrial chemicals than it is to compromise the security of a military base and obtain these materials."