By a vote of 10-0, the Senate Homeland Security Committee today unanimously passed chemical security legislation authored by Committee Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman. This comprehensive legislation, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act, would require that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) establish and enforce mandatory security standards at our nation’s chemical facilities to guard against potential terrorist threats. The bill would give DHS new authority to shut down facilities that failed to meet these standards.
Senator Collins said: “Tens of millions of Americans live and work in proximity to plants that produce, use, or store large quantities of hazardous chemicals. Nearly five years after 9/11, those citizens are protected by an incomplete and inadequate patchwork of laws and voluntary industry standards that too many facilities fail to observe. For the first time, our legislation would ensure that high-risk chemical facilities are covered by federal standards that would not only help to deter terrorist attacks, but also mitigate the consequences of an attack. Our legislation would give the Department of Homeland Security the strongest possible remedy to ensure compliance: the authority to shut down any chemical facility that does not adequately address the risks of a terrorist attack.” Senator Lieberman said: “This legislation takes a significant step toward protecting Americans from the massive death and destruction that would result from a terrorist attack upon a chemical plant and preserves the critical rights of states to pass stricter chemical security laws. I’m doubly pleased we were able to break through a partisan impasse that has delayed action on this critical issue since shortly after 9/11. I am disappointed, however, that provisions were adopted that undercut the public’s right to know about the security of specific plants, that protect facilities from legal liability, and that my amendment to require the riskiest plants to use safer technology was not accepted. I intend to expend every effort to strengthen this bill when it comes to the Senate floor.” Specifically, the bill would direct DHS to establish risk-based and performance-based criteria for chemical facilities to help protect against terrorist attacks. 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 DHS. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Thomas Carper (D-DE), and Carl Levin (D-MI). During consideration of the bill, an amendment by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) regulating the handling and purchasing of ammonium nitrate was unanimously accepted. This chemical is widely used in fertilizers, but has also been used to make bombs like the one Timothy McVeigh constructed to kill 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The threats associated with ammonium nitrate were again brought to light when Canadian officials detained 17 terrorists who were intending to purchase three tons of the substance to make an explosive. The provision adopted by the Committee would require that anyone seeking to produce, store, sell or distribute ammonium nitrate register with DHS to ensure that appropriate background checks can be performed and the distribution of the chemical can be tracked.