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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I want to thank Senator LAUTENBERG, who has been a leader on chemical plant security for more than 20 years. He first introduced chemical safety legislation in 1985 and is an expert on the issue. I am proud to join him in introducing this bill.

The dangers that chemical plants present to our homeland security have been well documented. Industrial chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia, phosgene, methyl bromide, hydrochloric and various other acids are routinely stored near cities in multi-ton quantities. These chemicals are extremely hazardous and identical to those used as weapons during the First World War.

Today, there are 111 facilities in the country where a catastrophic chemical release could threaten more than 1 million people. These plants represent some of the most attractive targets for terrorists looking to cause widespread death and destruction.

Despite this, security at our chemical plants is voluntary--left to the individual plant owners. While many chemical plant owners have taken steps to beef up security, too many have not. In Illinois, there have been recent reports by ABC-7 in Chicago of chemical plants with dilapidated fences, insufficient guard forces, and unprotected tanks of hazardous chemicals. These plants are basically stationary weapons of mass destruction. Their security is light, their facilities are easily entered, and their contents are deadly.

Nearly five years after September 11, the Federal Government has done virtually nothing to secure chemical plants. It is one of the great failures of this administration that needs to be addressed this year.

The Lautenberg-Obama bill is a huge step forward. It protects our communities in a responsible, but balanced way. There are features of this bill that should be a part of any chemical security legislation passed by this Congress.

Our legislation is risk-based. While all chemical facilities would have to take a number of concrete steps to improve security, only the highest-risk facilities would be subject to bill's strictest scrutiny and regulation by the Department of Homeland Security. These high-priority facilities would have to perform vulnerability assessments, develop prevention and response plans, submit to unscheduled inspections, and perform practice drills.

Our legislation is strict, but fair. Our bill replaces volunteer security standards with clearly defined Federal duties and regulations. While plant owners would not be able to substitute their own security standards, they would be able to come up with security plans that are tailored to each facility. And while the bill includes tough penalties for noncompliant facilities including strict fines and the threat of shutting down plants, it also minimizes duplicative requirements under other Federal laws.

The Lautenberg-Obama bill also protects state and local rights to establish security standards that match their local needs. States like New Jersey have been leaders in chemical security, and we do not want to cut these efforts off at the knees. The legislation also gives employees a seat at the table, by creating employee security committees, ensuring that employees are part of the security planning process, establishing security training requirements, and establishing tough whistleblower protections.

Our bill also includes all the methods to reduce risk. Our legislation requires security forces, perimeter defenses, hazard mitigation and emergency response. These are the ``guns, gates and guards'' that prevent terrorists from attacking plants and minimize the impact of an attack. But there are other ways to reduce risk that need to be part of the equation. Specifically, by employing safer technologies, we can reduce the attractiveness of chemical plants as a target.

This concept, known as Inherently Safer Technology, involves methods such as changing the flow of chemical processes to avoid dangerous chemical byproducts, reducing the pressures or temperatures of chemical reactions to minimize the risk of explosions, reducing inventories of dangerous chemicals and replacing dangerous chemicals with benign ones. Each one of these methods reduces the danger that chemical plants pose to our communities and makes them less appealing targets for terrorists.

The concept of IST was created thirty years ago by chemical industry insiders, and it has been embraced at different times by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, foreign governments and states like New Jersey. Even the chemical industry itself has embraced IST, and many facilities across the country have already employed safer technologies.

Unfortunately, the chemical industry has been lobbying nonstop on this bill. They do not want IST, they do not want protection of state laws and they do not want strict regulations. So far, because the industry wields so much influence in Washington, it's been getting its way. For example, the Department of Homeland Security initially embraced the concept of Inherently Safer Technology in a 2004 draft chemical security plan, only to reverse itself after heavy industry lobbying in 2006. Secretary Chertoff's announcement last week, in front of an audience of chemical industry executives, very closely tracked the industry's talking points.

This is wrong. We cannot allow chemical industry lobbyists to dictate the terms of this debate. We cannot allow our security to be hijacked by corporate interests.

Senator Lautenberg and I will fight for strong legislation to pass the Senate. We believe that we can work with chemical plants so that new safety regulations are implemented in a way that is flexible enough for the industry yet stringent enough to protect the American people. I urge my colleagues to come together to pass meaningful security legislation this year.

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