EPA's antiterrorism role
The US Congress's ambivalent treatment of comprehensive energy reform legislation is an obvious industry distraction.
The US Congress's ambivalent treatment of comprehensive energy reform legislation is an obvious industry distraction. But an even more immediate concern for oil and gas interests is what role the federal government plays in protecting critical infrastructures such as pipelines, refineries, and fuel storage tanks from terrorists.
Pending before the Senate is homeland security legislation creating a new cabinet-level department. A possible amendment to that proposal directs the US Environmental Protection Agency to place tough security rules at chemical plants, refineries, and other facilities that deal with potentially hazardous materials (OGJ Online, Sept. 11, 2002). Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) is considering a chemical "security" amendment to S. 2452, the legislation establishing a new Department of Homeland Security. A broad industry coalition opposes the amendment. They say that, if it passes, the proposal would require companies to conduct redundant vulnerability assessments and would unfairly expand EPA authority over air pollution guidelines.
EPA measures now voluntary
EPA earlier this month abandoned the idea of a mandatory program that oil industry trade groups had opposed. They warned EPA not to "micromanage" refinery and pipeline security. EPA listened. It opted for an industry plan that has EPA working with the private sector on homeland security goals without specific guidelines or timetables.
EPA says it is confident security concerns can still be met.
The agency Oct. 2 said it has already taken steps to ensure refineries and other chemical facilities are better prepared. The agency plans to add 75 response staff personnel trained to respond to multiple incidents. And EPA also will offer industry advanced training and equipment when companies are responding to any chemical, biological, or radiological incident.
Senate still mulls
But the EPA announcement is not enough, according to public interest and environmental groups. They are urging Corzine and his supporters to seek legislation giving EPA a stronger role.
Under Corzine's plan, 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 include 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.
Environmental Defense says the Corzine legislation is needed because companies have to assess their vulnerabilities to a terrorist attack and make their facilities safer by reducing potential hazards.
Industry, meanwhile, warns that new legislation will disrupt ongoing security enhancements and federal partnerships.
When and if the Corzine proposal becomes law remains an unanswered question.
Senate Democratic leaders are vowing to pass a homeland security bill before Congress leaves for the year. But the outlook for that legislation, like the energy bill, is murky when the legislative calendar is short and politicians' tempers far shorter.