Chemical plants and utilities, including some in western Kentucky, say the security rules would just repeat Homeland rules.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials of local plants and utilities that have large chemical inventories say they are concerned about the potential operational and cost effects of legislation that some think duplicates the Bioterrorism Act passed earlier this year.
As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Paducah Water Works already has spent about $75,000 on security upgrades — fencing, gates, cameras, motion alarms, lighting and signs — at its distribution plant and other parts of the system, General Manager Glen Anderson said. An additional $25,000 could be spent meeting stringent terrorism-vulnerability assessments required by the previous act, he said.
Anderson said the Paducah system is part of the American Water Works Association, which believes the new proposal essentially duplicates the Bioterrorism Act.
"To have to do another assessment and have other deadlines and components that surely would be different from the Bioterrorism Act makes no sense to us," he said.
The new legislation would "splinter security responsibility" from the Department of Homeland Security and grant the EPA "extensive new authority that may be detrimental to advancing our nation's critical infrastructure security," the 30 associations said in an Aug. 29 letter to Congress. Opposition includes the American Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Chemical Distributors and the U.S. Oil and Gas Association.
Last week, congressional debate intensified over attaching the new bill, proposed by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., to the huge Homeland Security Act. This week, legislative sources said the measure may take a back seat until after Congress reconvenes next year.
Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, as well as Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, have not taken stances on the legislation, their aides say. There is no comparable legislation in the House.
McConnell issued a statement saying homeland security is critical, but he advocates a "consensus position that improves the safety of chemical plants by linking cooperatively with existing state, local and private security sources."
The bill would greatly expand EPA’s oversight of plants with hazardous materials. Some industrial groups say it could unfairly give the agency power to determine which chemicals are used, how they are used and which products are produced.
Gary Shemwell, manager of administration at Westlake Group in Calvert City, said his and other plants have spent considerable time and money upgrading security as a result of the 2001 attacks.
"We have general information about the bill, but we don't have specifics," he said. "From what we've seen, we think plant security should remain with the Department of Homeland Security."
In a Sept. 5 letter to colleagues, Corzine said security at many chemical plants is inadequate. Citing EPA information, he said there are 123 plants in 24 states where an accident "could expose more than 1 million people to highly toxic chemicals. Corzine said there are nearly 3,000 plants in 49 states where an accident "could threaten more than 10,000 people."
In January, a fire accompanying an accidental release of about 10,000 pounds of chlorine and vinyl chloride at Westlake threatened residents downwind in Livingston County. Federal health officials said it was very unlikely the trouble caused more than minor problems for healthy neighbors, but those with existing health problems would have been at greater risk if exposed.
Amy Ridenour, president of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., attacked the new bill in an editorial on her organization's Web site, www. nationalcenter.org.
She said that earlier this summer, the radical environmental group Greenpeace posted color maps obtained from the EPA on the Internet showing chemical plants near large U.S. cities. The group claimed terrorist attacks on them would shroud the surrounding area in a deadly mist of toxic ingredients.
One of the plants most prominently publicized was a Kuehne Chemical bleach factory in South Kearney, N.J., a few miles from Manhattan and in Corzine’s home state, she said. Greenpeace said a terrorist attack on the Kuehne facility could unleash a cloud of chlorine and sulfur that might cover a radius of 25 miles and jeopardize the lives or health of about 12 million people, she said.
Although the FBI managed to persuade a reluctant EPA bureaucracy to remove the toxic chemical disclosures rather than give terrorists an advantage, the data and maps were downloaded by Greenpeace and posted on its Web site, she said.
Mark Donham, chairman of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant citizens' advisory committee, said he doesn't have enough information about the Corzine bill to make a judgment. He said the terrorism risks to chemical plants are real, but he isn't sure the nation "can afford" the hundreds of billions spent on increased security measures for airlines, the nuclear industry, border protection "and now chemical plants."
"I can't see us climbing back from this under the same old way of doing things," said Donham, president of the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists. "So I wonder if it's not going to take something more unusual, maybe thinking out of the box."
He said the United States needs to rethink its energy policies and its Middle Eastern oil policy to relax tension in hopes of reducing terrorism.
Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for USEC Inc., which operates the diffusion plant, said it was premature to discuss the bill. The plant has large inventories of chlorine and other chemicals.
"We're still watching this carefully," she said, "and studying what effect it might or might not have on us."