Washington, DC – Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today chaired a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to examine what has been done to secure chemical facilities, what remains to be done to guard them against being used by terrorists as weapons, and whether federal legislation is needed to strengthen security at these sites. Administration officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified at the hearing today. Most notably, the Administration for the first time testified publicly that the Department supports federal legislation to regulate security at the nation’s chemical facilities.
“For the first time, the Administration is stating clearly before Congress that current laws are not adequate to the task of improving security of chemical plants. Federal legislation is needed,” said Senator Collins. “The clear statement from the Administration that it supports new legislation and will work with this Committee to draft a bill is a welcome and appreciated development. While I had hoped for more detail on what specific authority the Administration believes is needed, the acknowledgment that current laws are inadequate is a positive first step.”
Today’s hearing was the second of a series of hearings that Senator Collins expects to hold to examine the issue. At the hearing, the DHS Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, Robert Stephan, outlined “principles” that the Department believes are important for future legislation to address, including the recognition that different facilities present different levels of risk, that facility security should be based on reasonable, clear, and equitable performance standards, and that many companies have already made some progress to improve security.
EPA has cataloged some 15,000 facilities in the United States that manufacture, use or store hazardous chemicals for productive, legitimate purposes in amounts that could cause extensive harm if turned against us as weapons. DHS, using a different methodology, has identified 3,400 facilities that could affect more than 1,000 people if attacked. Only a fraction of the nation’s chemical facilities are regulated for security by the federal government or subscribe to voluntary industry security standards.
“These chemical facilities are not hidden. We know they exist, we know precisely where they are and what they contain. So do the terrorists,” said Senator Collins. “It is time to reduce the vulnerability of our nation’s chemical facilities to attack. It is time for us to work together with the Administration, the industry, environmental groups and other interested parties to draft a bipartisan bill.”