New controls on chemical plant security sought

House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., Tuesday called on the Bush administration to prepare new controls on chemical plant security, charging the White House's efforts to ensure facilities are not vulnerable to terrorist attacks have been woefully inadequate.

"It is an outrage that the federal government has no idea how vulnerable our chemical plants are to terrorist attack," Dingell said in a statement. Dingell's call comes in response to a new General Accouning Office report (GAO-03-439) that found serious problems with chemical facility security and recommends the Environmental Protection Agency and the Homeland Security Department develop a strategy to identify security lapses and improve the industry's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Dingell, along with environmentalists and public health organizations, have increasingly focused on the security of chemical plants. Although Democrats and activists have in the past called for mandatory legislation giving EPA oversight of facility security, the chemical industry has thus far successfully fought such attempts, and the administration has allowed the sector to pursue voluntary initiatives to boost security.

Although these voluntary efforts have had some effect, GAO says in its report that problems still exist and that EPA and the Homeland Security Department should take a role in boosting security across the industry.

Specifically, GAO suggests that EPA and Homeland Security identify high-risk facilities and collect information on industry security preparedness; specify the roles and responsibilities of each federal agency working on chemical plant security; develop appropriate information sharing mechanisms; and develop a legislative proposal requiring the industry assess their vulnerability to terrorist attacks and giving the government the authority to enforce needed changes, among other recommendations.

Meanwhile, Energy and Commerce member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., announced Tuesday he is in the final stages of drafting legislation to implement the GAO recommendations.

"Currently, these facilities provide terrorists a perfect weapon ... My legislation will take this weapon away from terrorists by identifying unsafe facilities and requiring them to become secure," Pallone said.