Congress must safeguard chemical facilities, communities
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There is no doubt that Congress has a lot on its plate right now. As a former member of the House, I remember all too well what it was like to have many critical issues competing for attention all at once. Despite the constant bustle, there was one concern that always took priority and helped to focus our efforts faster than anything else — and that was ensuring the security of our nation.

Today, America faces a national security concern that has nothing to do with border protections or travel restrictions. And unlike other controversial measures, there’s a solution readily available to Congress that will help address it.

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The problem is as straightforward as its potential solution.

 

In the final days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a rule making significant and problematic regulatory changes to its Risk Management Program (RMP). EPA’s changes would permit sensitive information about chemical sites to be made publically available — information that if in the wrong hands, could be used to plan and execute dangerous and potentially deadly attacks on chemical facilities.

The RMP has been one of the more important regulatory programs to advance safety and reduce the chance of an accidental chemical release at facilities that use hazardous substances. For many years, it has been, and continues to be, an effective program that has the strong support of the chemical industry as an accident prevention program. In fact, the chemical industry has achieved a dramatic decrease in accidental chemical releases — close to a 60 percent reduction — since the original RMP was adopted in 1996.

Despite this success and without adequate evidence to justify changes, the Obama administration’s revisions to the program will force companies to provide facility-specific chemical information to anyone who requests it — information that in situations in the past, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deemed as being sensitive and in need of protection for security reasons.

The new rule does not allow facilities to deny requests that may raise red flags, and it provides no safeguards to ensure those requesting the information have a need-to-know for purposes of community emergency preparedness.

Ironically, the very incident that caused the Obama administration to review the RMP program — the arson that caused the devastating explosion of a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas — could more easily be replicated with the kind of “on demand” disclosure of sensitive information that the Obama administration mandated with its rule changes.

While it is certainly appropriate for the Agency to use its regulatory authority to make necessary modifications to the RMP to bolster safety, EPA is required to consider stakeholder input, sound science and cost-benefit analysis to ensure any proposed changes will not create new problems. In this case, Obama’s EPA failed to meet its statutory obligations for clearly demonstrating the need for additional requirements and how these requirements would improve chemical safety commensurate with their additional regulatory burdens. And furthermore, the new requirements will not bolster safety. They will undermine safety.

During the rulemaking process the regulated community, members of Congress, Attorneys General, the Conference of Mayors and other local officials voiced strong concerns that EPA’s changes to the RMP could endanger chemical facilities and communities across America. Public documents from the interagency review process show that even Obama Administration security agencies stated that they “believe… sharing this information with the public could assist terrorists in selecting targets and/or increasing the severity of an attack by decreasing first responder capability.”

Companies will have no choice but to comply with EPA’s misguided new requirements unless Congress approves H.J. Res. 59, which was introduced by Congressman Mullin and now has the support of more than 40 cosponsors and S.J. Res. 28, which was introduced by Senator Inhofe. The resolutions appropriately utilize the Congressional Review Act to block this rule from jeopardizing national security. Furthermore, this action by Congress will not impact the successful aspects of RMP that existed before EPA’s new rule, which will ensure that robust chemical safety regulations remain in place.

Our industry is fully committed to working with federal agencies to enhance safety, but deterring potential attacks is challenging enough without creating new regulatory problems that jeopardize the security of chemical facilities. Congress cannot afford to sit on the sidelines on this one and must approve the resolutions introduced by Congressman Mullin and Senator Inhofe to protect chemical facilities, safeguard communities and protect our national security.

Cal Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. Dooley represented the 20th District of California as a Democratic member of the House from 1991 until 2004. He served on the House Agriculture Committee, as well as the House Resources Committee.


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