Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Bush Administration Sits out Debate at Senate Hearing. (Chemical Safety)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Bush Administration Sits out Debate at Senate Hearing. (Chemical Safety)

Article excerpt

Worried that the chemical industry is not doing enough to guard against terrorist attacks on high-risk chemical facilities, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., has introduced a bill that would lead to tough new federal regulations.

Where the Bush administration stands on Corzine's Chemical Security Act of 2001 is not clear. In a move that clearly riled Democrats, neither EPA Administrator Christie Whitman nor Attorney General John Ashcroft chose to accept a Senate subcommittee's invitation to testify at a November hearing on the measure. Nor did anyone else from the two agencies show up to speak on their behalf.

Senate Republicans and chemical industry representatives, however, made it clear they oppose S. 1602 during the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, Risk and Waste Management.

Key provisions of Corzine's bill:

* Require EPA to work with the Department of Justice (DOJ), state and local agencies to designate, within a year, high-priority categories of chemical manufacturers and transporters;

* Give EPA and DOJ an additional year to develop safety regulations for these companies;

* Give EPA and DOJ the power to issue administrative orders to reduce the threat of potential attacks on high-risk chemicals; and

* Impose criminal penalties on owners and operators of chemical sources who knowingly violate the act.

Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said he opposes the bill because he believes cooperating with industry would lead to better security than would the adversarial approach entailed by new regulations. He also rejected provisions that would require chemical companies to install safer designs and maintenance practices.

A controversial provision in the bill could send owners and operators to prison for failing to comply with the act. "This bill puts the government in the role of managing chemical companies and puts managers in the role of preventing terrorism," Smith complained. "It would be a crime to be a victim of a crime."

Corzine defended the bill, saying he has taken a cooperative approach with industry and that imposing criminal liability for gross negligence is standard practice. …

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