Lieberman Leads Defeat of Industry’s Preemption Amendment to the Chemical Security Bill

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday led the effort to defeat industry’s attempts to weaken chemical plant security when the Committee agreed to retain language in the bill prohibiting federal legislation from overriding stronger security measures passed at the state and local levels.

The Chemical Facility Anti Terrorism Act of 2005, S. 2145, was debated during a Committee business meeting, but time ran out before final action on the bill could be taken. The business meeting will resume deliberations Thursday.

Legislative language Lieberman advocated in the bill forbids the federal government from pre-empting stronger chemical security legislation passed at the state or local levels. This language came under fire from Senator George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who offered an amendment, supported by industry that would have prohibited states from legislating stronger chemical security standards than the federal government proposes. The Voinovich amendment was defeated by a vote of 7 -9.

“This bill recognizes that Congress is not the only body that can and should help ensure the safety of the nation’s chemical facilities,” Lieberman said. “States and localities have long regulated these facilities for obvious safety and environmental concerns. Since 9/11, some states have already moved to require security improvements at chemical facilities. These state and local protections are critical adjuncts to our effort at the federal level, and I am pleased this bill states clearly that it does not preempt state and local laws or regulations regarding the safety of chemical facilities.”

The legislation also contains a list of options that chemical facilities may take to improve their security, and safer chemicals, storage and operations – known as Inherently Safer Technologies – are listed among the options.

Unfortunately, an effort by Lieberman to strengthen the bill’s safer technologies language failed. His amendment requiring the riskiest chemical facilities to employ safer chemicals, storage, and operations if it was cost-effective, feasible, and would enhance security went down on a vote of 5-11.

“Safer chemicals, improved storage, and safer operations make a facility less inviting as a target for terrorists and will limit the loss of life or other damage if an attack does occur,” Lieberman argued. “We know that many facilities and many security experts already look to these less dangerous technologies as a potent and cost-effective way to improve security against a possible terror attack.

“I would hope that all chemical facilities will consider and implement such changes. But the riskiest facilities–some of which could endanger tens or hundreds of thousands of lives if attacked–should have to demonstrate they have thoroughly investigated the option of safer solutions to reduce risk to the greatest extent possible.”