Industry pans new EPA security proposal for refineries and chemical plants

More than a dozen industry groups have urged the US Senate to reject legislation to give the US Environmental Protection Agency broad new authority over security at chemical plants and oil refineries.

By the OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 11 -- More than a dozen industry groups recently have urged the US Senate to reject pending legislation to give the US Environmental Protection Agency broad new authority over security at chemical plants and oil refineries.

Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) is expected to soon offer a chemical "security" amendment to S. 2452, legislation establishing a new Department of Homeland Security. A broad industry coalition opposes the amendment. They maintain it would require companies to conduct vulnerability assessment plans and grant EPA authority to require companies to implement process redesign and toxics use reduction. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, it would also disrupt companies' ongoing security enhancements aimed at protecting employees and surrounding communities.

Meanwhile, oil industry trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, are worried that EPA would be allowed to "micromanage" refinery and pipeline security.

Nevertheless, Corzine is expected to offer the chemical "security" amendment to S. 2452 as soon as this week.

Supporters of the measure, which include public interest and environmental groups, say the bill aims to keep fuel out of terrorist hands (OGJ Online, Dec. 14, 2001). Under the proposal, first introduced as S. 1602 last year, EPA and the Department of Justice would have expanded authority to intervene when there is a serious security threat targeting chemicals. Bill sponsors included Corzine, Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and James Jeffords (I-VT.). The bill also requires those agencies to develop regulations that define priority sites and assure that basic security precautions are taken, including limiting inventories stored on site.

Green support
"In essence, the Corzine legislation would tell companies in EPA's chemical accident prevention program that they need to assess their vulnerabilities to a terrorist attack and make facilities safer by reducing the hazards and . . . look at ways to make their plant more secure," said Environmental Defense Fund official Carol Andress. "The focus of this legislation is on big facilities that are near urban centers that are at high risk for terrorist attacks and chemical disasters. And it puts the emphasis on reducing the hazards as much as possible—by switching to less hazardous chemicals or reducing the quantities on site."

But industry officials fear that in their haste to approve a new Department of Homeland Security, lawmakers will not understand the possible implications of the Senate proposal.

"Although characterized as security legislation, S. 1602 would splinter security responsibility away from the Department of Homeland Security and grant the Environmental Protection Agency extensive new authority that may be detrimental to advancing our nation's critical infrastructure security," an industry letter to lawmakers said.

"EPA has significant expertise in regulating the safe use, storage, management, and disposal of many potentially dangerous substances and should continue to do so. However, EPA lacks security expertise and sufficient resources to ensure the security of thousands of these facilities," the letter said. In addition, a clause in the bill referring to "inherently safer technologies" grants new authority to allow government micromanagement in mandating substitutions of all processes and substances, the groups charged.

Other considerations
Industry officials say they are also worried that new legislation will disrupt ongoing security enhancements and federal partnerships.

"S. 1602 will disrupt ongoing security enhancements aimed at protecting thousands of agricultural facilities, refineries, water treatment facilities, chemical manufacturing, distribution and handling facilities, bulk storage terminals, and small businesses and industries that are essential for our national security and economic vitality, the letter cautioned.

Next steps
Whether the proposal has enough political support to become law is uncertain, according to both proponents and opponents of the measure. API officials, for example said they hope to see changes in the bill that reflect an understanding that their association and related energy groups have been working with the Department of Energy since 1998 on safety and security issues.

"Official work was started in 1998 with DOE on critical infrastructures based on a 1998 directive by President Bill Clinton," noted Genevieve Murphy, an API senior manager. "Vulnerability assessments address both security and safety inside the fence and outside the fence. We are concerned with worker safety as much as community safety. Our facilities are located in areas all over the world, and we have experience dealing with these issues."

Murphy noted that, since Sept. 11, the petroleum industry has expanded its relationship with federal officials as it continued work with DOE, the Office of Pipeline Safety, Coast Guard, Department of Transportation, and other agencies to enhance facility security.

Under the current Senate proposal, API said it and other groups would have to report to additional government agencies, further complicating the process.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) recently indicated he favors having the measure attached to the Homeland Security bill. However, President George W. Bush has threatened to veto a bill that does not allow him to waive labor laws and civil service protections when the new department is created. API said that, under the House's Homeland Security bill, passed in early August (H.R. 5005), security functions of the petroleum industry would be transferred to DHS. In addition, energy security and assurance programs now within DOE would move to the new department. DOE's chemical and biological national security programs also would shift. Similarly, pipeline security under the Transportation Security Administration would move to the new agency as would marine facilities and vessels and worker safety issues now handled by the Coast Guard.

But EDF and Senate supporters say the House version does not address chemical security and, even with a presidential veto threat looming, "getting the amendment passed in the Senate will be a major step forward," EDF said.

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