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The 18½ Minute Gap
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Monday, August 11, 2003
Solution? Just don't breathe, I guess
Business as Usual for Chemical Plants (washingtonpost.com): "The 15,000 facilities around the country that produce, use or store significant quantities of toxic chemicals present attractive targets for terrorists. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 100 of these plants, especially those near urban areas, could endanger a million or more Americans if attacked. In 2001 the Army's surgeon general reportedly ranked this health risk second only to a widespread biological attack. Earlier this year the National Infrastructure Protection Center warned that al Qaeda might target chemical facilities in the United States as part of its terror campaign. And Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said that the administration is concerned that terrorists could turn a chemical facility 'into a weapon.'"
Apparently, the administration isn't concerned enough to actually do anything about it, though. A bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) that passed a bipartisan Senate committee unanimously last year was scuttled on the floor thanks to the efforts of industry lobbyists, and now Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is pushing a much weaker bill that the White House is backing.
Incredibly, the Inhofe bill provides for virtually no oversight or enforcement of safety requirements. Unlike Corzine's proposal, it would not allow the government to demand emergency action by companies that it has reason to believe are terrorist targets, nor would it insist on government review of facility security plans. (The latter failure is akin to the Internal Revenue Service's telling companies to fill out their tax forms but not to bother to file them.) The Inhofe bill prohibits the federal agency with the most expertise on chemicals, the EPA, from putting its skills to good use. And unlike the Corzine bill, the Inhofe bill would not require companies to replace dangerous chemicals -- which might pose tempting terrorist targets -- even when safer technologies are available and affordable. The chemical manufacturers say that they will consider making their processes safer. But we did not just ask airlines to simply consider improving security -- we made them do it.
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