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Lautenberg’s Latest Law: Congress Considers Chemical Plant Safety

A report released last Tuesday (January 22, 2013) cites data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and concludes something disturbing. The report finds that finds 12,440 facilities across the United States put citizens at risk of dangerous chemical exposure in the event of an accident or terrorist attack.

The report is called “The Danger In Our Backyards: The Threat of Chemical Facilities to Millions.” It examines 12 high risk sites across the country and finds that a significant number of communities are disproportionately at risk from chemical releases from these facilities.

More broadly, the report indicates that:

  1. 89 facilities each pose a catastrophic risk to a million or more area residents and workers.
  2. 384 facilities each pose a risk to 100,000 or more residents and workers.
  3. 2,043 facilities each pose a risk to 10,000 or more people.

New Congressional Bill

In reaction, NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced related legislation to Congress on Wednesday, January 23, 2012.

Lautenberg’s proposed legislation would require high risk chemical, oil refinery, and water facilities to assess and develop plans to address vulnerabilities. It would then require the highest-risk facilities to use Inherently Safer Technology (IST) towards increasing public and environmental safety.

Lautenberg introduced the legislation as two separate bills:

  1. The “Secure Chemical Facilities Act” – administered by the Department of Homeland Security
  2. The “Secure Water Facilities Act” – administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

This legislative one-two punch aims at protecting communities and the environment from facilities that could, inadvertently, cause significant harm.

“The risk is great for millions of Americans living in the shadow of the thousands of chemical plants and water treatment facilities across America. These plants provide valuable services, but they also pose significant threats,” Senator Lautenberg said. “Hundreds of plants have already switched to safer and more secure chemicals and processes, and this common-sense legislation would build on these achievements and increase safety nationwide.”

Keep an eye on this proposed legislation, but once again, expect voting to follow party lines. In US Congress currently, party lines are unfavorable to Lautenberg’s brand of policy proposal.

References and more information  

Industry watchers will almost have been expecting Lautenberg to submit a bill of this nature; his efforts have been consistent over the years. More about Senator Lautenberg is available on his website.

In April of 2010, Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act in an attempt to revive EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In 2012, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee actually passed an updated version of the Safe Chemicals Act. But the measure has since stalled in Washington – which was expected given a right-tilting Congress and voting along party lines.

K.M. Hurley is a writer, industry advisor, and director at Actio.

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