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Chemical Security

Location: Washington, DC

CHEMICAL SECURITY -- (House of Representatives - May 23, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Price of Georgia). Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, in 2003 the U.S. General Accounting Office released a report that was done at the request of myself and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell) and, I believe, other Members of Congress that found with regard to terrorist threats that no Federal agency has assessed the extent of security preparedness at chemical plants and that no Federal requirements are in place to require chemical plants to assess their vulnerabilities and take steps to reduce them.

I wanted to talk briefly tonight about this issue of the need for security at chemical plants. I was very pleased to note yesterday in the New York Times the lead editorial addressed this issue. I wanted to read from some sections of that editorial and comment on it.

In one part of the New York Times editorial yesterday it says, ``There is no way to guarantee that terrorists will not successfully attack a chemical facility, but it would be grossly negligent not to take defensive measures. The question Americans should be asking themselves, says Rick Hind, Legislative Director of the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign, is, `If you fast-forward to a disaster, what would you want to have done?' ''

And this is what the New York Times and what Greenpeace say should be some of the priorities:

``First, tighter plant security. There should be tough Federal standards for perimeter fencing. Concrete blockades, armed guards and other forms of security at all of the 15,000 facilities that use deadly chemicals.

``Second, use of safer chemicals. Refineries, when practical, should adopt processes that do not use hydrofluoric acid, the chemical that is now putting New Orleans at risk. Some plants that once used chlorine, such as the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant in Washington, D.C., have switched to safer alternatives.

``Third, reducing quantities of dangerous chemicals. An important reason that chemical facilities make such tempting targets for terrorists is the enormous quantity of chemicals they have on hand. The industry should be encouraged and in some cases required to store and transport dangerous chemicals in smaller quantities.

``Fourth, limiting chemical facilities in highly populated areas. Many chemical facilities were built long before terrorism was a concern and when fewer people lived in their surrounding areas. There should be a national initiative to move dangerous chemical facilities, where practical, to lower population areas.

``Fifth, government oversight of chemical safety. The chemical industry wants to police itself through voluntary programs, but the risks are too great to leave chemical security in private hands. Facilities that use dangerous chemicals should be required to identify their vulnerabilities to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security and to meet Federal safety standards.''

Now, those are the five points that were are mentioned by the New York Times yesterday in their editorial, and also by Greenpeace. But I wanted to say, Mr. Speaker, that more than 3 years have passed since 9/11 and Congress has yet to seriously address the need to secure our Nation's chemical plants. We are finally seeing some movement in the Senate, but not yet in the House. And it is time to take serious action to reduce the threat of an attack on a chemical facility which would endanger millions of lives.

Last month I reintroduced the Chemical Security Act, H.R. 2237, which requires the EPA and the Department of Homeland Security to work together to identify high-priority chemical facilities. Once identified, these facilities would be required to assess vulnerabilities and hazards and then development and implement a plan to improve security and use safer technologies within 18 months. Senator Corzine has introduced this bill in the Senate.

Now, since the legislation was first introduced in the House in 2002, I have tried to get the Republican leadership to conduct a congressional hearing on chemical security. And I welcomed the announcement last week on the House floor during the discussion or debate on the Homeland Security bill, there was an announcement that the House Select Committee on Homeland Security chairman, the gentleman from California (Mr. Cox) said his committee would hold a hearing or start a series of hearings on chemical security beginning June 14.

I would also like to see my own committee, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over chemical facilities, to follow the gentleman from California's (Mr. Cox) lead and schedule hearings or begin to have hearings this summer.

Hopefully, we will see some positive signs, some movement in the House, at least to have hearings on the issue, but it really is a very important issue, not only for New Jersey, my home State, but throughout the country. I am also pleased that the New York Times has pointed this out.

Greenpeace, of course, has talked about a number of initiatives even beyond the ones that were mentioned in the New York Times, and I plan to spend some time over the next few weeks talking to Greenpeace about whether additional legislation is necessary to address some of their concerns.

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