WASHINGTON – Laws regulating the security of most factories and other businesses that possess a large amount of chemicals should also cover drinking water and waste water treatment plants,some experts said at a House hearing Thursday.
The Chemical Security Anti-terrorism Act of 2006 created a framework for the Department of Homeland Security to establish national standards for chemical facilities.
The act requires any facility – from a factory to a farm – that uses a certain amount of chemicals to register and to create a safety plan. The law is aimed at preventing terrorists from obtaining chemicals such as chlorine gas,which can be made into bombs. This act expires in 2009.
The two bills discussed Thursday,the Chemical Facilities Act of 2008 and the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008,would extend and modify the 2006 act.
Drinking water and waste water treatment facilities are exempt from the 2006 legislation because they are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We want to work together to close the gaps in water security,” Benjamin H. Grumbles,EPA's assistant administrator for water,said.
Grumbles said he thinks it would be best to extend the laws already in place to regulate water and sewer plants.
“Water is life,and it is also America's greatest asset,so it is important for us to make sure it is secure,” he said.
The EPA and Department of Homeland Security agree that any new laws should give DHS authority over water and sewer treatment plants because they use chlorine and other chemicals,Grumbles said.
The Chemical Facilities Act of 2008 would extend the 2006 act and says states are allowed to create standards more stringent than federal standards.
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008 extends the previous act but also makes several changes,such as requiring periodic safety drills,outside inspections and that facilities store fewer chemicals. It would include water and sewer plants.
Some people are concerned that making a lot of changes to the legislation,as the second act does,could be detrimental because facilities are still in the process of learning about and applying rules in the 2006 legislation.
“We need to allow the program to be fully implemented before making significant changes,” said Marty Durbin,managing director for federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council.
But others disagree,because the second bill is more comprehensive. It covers more areas that could be terrorist targets and improves regulations,said Philip J. Crowley,senior fellow and director of homeland security at the Center for American Progress,a liberal policy institute.
There was also some concern about how much of a role states would have in creating stricter regulations for chemical facilities.
Grumbles voiced concerns about states establishing “cookie-cutter” programs that could create vulnerabilities by making it easier for terrorists to understand exactly how states operate. He said it is important to focus on results rather than regulations so terrorists would not have the information about exactly how security works at every facility.
Other experts agreed that states should not have a large role,but there should instead be a partnership between state and federal governments.
“States can supplement and complement,but we have to be careful,” Durbin said.
Rep. Heather A. Wilson,R-N.M., expressed concerns about research and development of technology that would help ensure the security at these facilities.
“It has been seven years since 9/11,and we still can't offer some low-cost,effective technology,” she said.
Committee members agreed it is important to create legislation that will ensure the safety of employees at facilities as well people who live nearby.
“The risks we are discussing are widespread,” said Rep. Hilda L. Solis,D-Calif.