Me.’s Collins, Conn.’s Lieberman Push Tougher Chemical Plant Safety

December 22, 2005

Oil-storage tanks in South Portland and paper mills in other parts of Maine would be among the facilities subject to additional safety standards if federal legislation to be introduced this week is enacted.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee, plans to formally introduce the security bill with Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Collins said that witnesses warned during hearings earlier this year that terrorists could use chemical manufacturing and storage plants as weapons.

“What’s impressed me most is the need to act in this area that’s just crying out for action,” said Collins, whose bill would create national standards for securing chemical plants. She believes the threat is too big for voluntary industry efforts and a patchwork of state laws.

To justify security standards, supporters of the legislation cited the 1984 accidental release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, which killed 3,000 people and injured 200,000.

In the United States, 123 facilities nationwide each have the potential to kill 1 million people, assuming the worst, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has removed the list from its Web site as a security precaution.

Maine sites covered by the legislation are relatively minor compared to large storage and manufacturing plants in industrial states.

“Obviously the security risk of a rural paper mill that’s using a limited number of chemicals is very different from a chemical manufacturing plant in an urban area,” Collins said. “But just because a plant is in a rural area doesn’t mean there’s no threat.”

Under Collins’ bill, the Department of Homeland Security would determine threats to specific locations, such as a truck bomb or armed intruder. Facilities would be ranked by tiers, with those at greatest risk developing the strictest protections.

Facilities would also have to assess their vulnerability, develop security and emergency response plans.

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