WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday expressed delight in Committee passage of landmark chemical security legislation that preserves the rights of states to enact stricter chemical plant security. But he strongly objected to provisions that would limit the public’s right to information and legal redress and diminish the accountability of the chemical industry.
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, S.2145, co-sponsored by Lieberman and Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., was reported out of Committee unanimously after Lieberman opposed an amendment by Senator George Voinovich, R-Ohio, that would restrict the right of the public to obtain information about the security of chemical facilities, to petition the courts for proper implementation and enforcement of the law, and would make it harder to prosecute facility owners who violate the law.
“These provisions weaken what is otherwise a major step toward protecting American citizens from the unimaginable consequences of a terrorist attack on a chemical facility,” Lieberman said. “People who live in the shadow of chemical plants should have the right to know how safe those plants are and they should be allowed to challenge Homeland Security actions – or inactions – if they believe their safety is in jeopardy.
“The security plans chemical facilities must develop are literally matters of life and death, and the government should have every tool available to make sure facilities are as secure as they can be. This amendment eliminates one of those tools.
“The amendment essentially puts a clamp on the public’s right to know and to petition the court for redress in the area of chemical plant security. The Voinovich amendment is an unwise and unfair aspect of this legislation, and I intend to work to eliminate it when the bill reaches the Senate floor.”
Voinovich’s amendment would:
• Bar the public from ever knowing whether a facility was out of compliance with the law.
• Bar citizens or local officials from challenging DHS actions – or inactions – but allows chemical facilities to do so.
• Require a facility owner to “willfully” ignore a DHS directive in order to be held criminally liable, even if the owner ignored the order for months or
even years, making it extremely difficult to attach criminal penalties for violations.
The overall legislation directs the Department of Homeland Security to establish risk-based criteria to determine which chemical facilities should be regulated and establish security standards for those facilities. Chemical plants would be required to conduct vulnerability assessments and create site security and emergency response plans based on their specific vulnerabilities, subject to approval by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The Secretary of Homeland Security would have the authority to shut down high-risk chemical facilities that the Secretary believes have not adequately addressed the risk of a terrorist attack.