Friday, March 24, 2006

Chertoff and Chemical Plant Security

An editorial in today’s New York Times criticized Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, for his lack of leadership in the area of chemical plant security. Chemical plants are one of the ways terrorists can attack the U. S. For example, an attack on a chlorine plant, releasing significant amounts of poison gas, could endanger thousands.

OSHA has regulations designed to reduce the chance of an accidental release of hazardous chemicals or of an explosion. However, these regulations are designed to protect against accidents, not deliberate acts. Many chemical plants have security plans and methods to protect against deliberate acts that would endanger the public. However, many plants do not have such protections, and the federal government has been slow to issue regulations to require them.

In a speech to leaders of the chemical industry, Mr. Chertoff supported the concept of federal preemption of state regulations of chemical plants if the federal regulations were weaker.

According to the New York Times, "Mr. Chertoff seemed perfectly content to defer on key security matters to an industry that contributes heavily to Republican campaigns but has proved to be dangerously unwilling to take public safety seriously."

Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman, a Republican and a Democrat, have introduced a bill that would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop safety standards that would be mandatory for all chemical plants. This legislation is needed. But action will still be required by Homeland Security to write and enforce the regulations.