Friday, March 30, 2007

Updated: More Wrangling on Chemical Plant Security

The wrangling over chemical plant security isn't going away. One of the key issues - whether the federal government's rules can supersede state laws - has been revisited in the new supplemental spending bill. The Record (NJ) reports:

New Jersey's chemical plant security standards would be protected from possible dilution by the federal Department of Homeland Security under a bill the Senate approved Thursday.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., lobbied aggressively for a provision in a $122 billion emergency war spending bill that allows states to implement chemical security standards that go beyond what DHS requires.

The American Chemistry Council worked to strip Lautenberg's provision, arguing it could delay implementation of DHS regulations proposed in December -- and leave the nation vulnerable to a terrorist attack on chemical plants.

Unlike the federal rules, New Jersey's rules require chemical plants to study whether "inherently safer technology" is available that would reduce the risk of an accident or potential harm from an attack.
Mostly this is a political turf issue (i.e., who gets to make the rules?), but there are real implications to this. Chemical plants are an attractive target. (See this post from last week.)

Why shouldn't states and localities have a say - or in some cases, just the information - about what's in their backyards and how the chemical industry should maintain safety and security? States and localities certainly have a legitimate interest in this.

Updated 2007-04-03: On April 2, DHS released its final rules on security at chemical plants. The rules permit the pre-emption of state laws, GovExec reported:
[DHS] tried to specify when state laws will be overridden.

"Some states have existing laws for regulating chemical facilities," the department said in a statement. "Only state laws and requirements that conflict or interfere with these regulations, or the purpose for the regulations, will be pre-empted. Currently, the department has no reason to conclude that any existing state laws are applied in a way that would impede the federal rule."

The department also maintains the authority to pre-empt state health, safety or environmental protections, according to the rules.
Sen. Lautenberg is continuing to push for legislation that would prohibit DHS from pre-empting state or local statues, except "when a clearly defined conflict exists."

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