Hello, this is Senator
Barack Obama and today is Wednesday, March 29, 2006.
You know, there has obviously
been a lot of talk about homeland security since the tragedy of
9/11. We have recently seen the debate flair up around the issue
or ports and the nation of Dubai bidding to take over some of our
critical port infrastructure. In this whole discussion, I think
that many of you may not be aware of the degree to which we have
utterly failed to deal with what may be one of the most significant
potential terror threats to this country and that is how we protect
our chemical plants across the nation.
The 9/11 Commission focused
specifically on the dangers of our chemical plants, how exposed
they are. Industrial chemicals such as chlorine, ammonia, phosgene,
methyl bromide, hydrochloric and various other acids are routinely
stored near cities in multi-ton quantities. These chemicals are
extraordinarily hazardous. Several are identical to those that were
used as weapons during the First World War. Today they are 111 facilities
in the country where a catastrophic chemical release could threaten
more than one million people. These plants represent some of the
most attractive targets for terrorists looking to cause wide spread
death and destruction. Despite this fact, security at our chemical
plants is voluntary. It's left to the individual plant owners. While
many chemical plant owners have taken steps to beef up security,
there are a lot who haven't. We are still hearing reports of chemical
plants with lap-dated fences, under-sized guard forces, and unprotected
tanks of hazardous chemicals.
Basically these plants
are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the
country. Their security is light, their facilities are easily entered,
and their contents are deadly. Now, five years after 9/11, the federal
government has done virtually nothing to secure these chemical plants.
It's a travesty that the 9/11 Commission, in looking at what has
been done over the last five years gave us basically an "F"
when it came to chemical plant security. So what I've done working
with Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, is to introduce legislation
that would protect our communities from this potential threat but
in a balanced way. There are features in this bill that I think
have to be part of any chemical security legislation passed by this
Congress, and Congress has to go ahead and actually act on legislation
in this area.
So, here are a couple things
that the bill does. Number one: it establishes a general duty to
improve security at facilities storing threshold amounts of chemicals.
What that means is that chemical facilities would have to take steps
to improve security including improving barriers, containment, mitigation,
safety training, and where possible, use safer technology. That
is known as Inherent Safer Technology, or "IST," what
that means is essentially, plants should use less toxic chemicals,
and employ safer procedures where possible.
Second thing it does is
it identifies high priority chemical facilities. It directs the
Department of Homeland Security to work with the EPA, the Environmental
Protection Agency, as well as state and local agencies to identify
those areas that need special attention either because they are
close to population centers, the type or amount of chemicals that
are involved, their threat to national security and critical infrastructure.
Third thing: it requires
high priority facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and
develop and implement response plans. That's something that is not
Fourth thing it does is
it says that if states decide to create laws that are more stringent
than the national standard, they are not preempted; states can make
decisions that they want even better protection for our chemical
Next, it protects whistle-blowers.
It protects employees who report dangerous gaps in security to the
Homeland Security Department.
Finally, it protects security
information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act
and other state and local disclosure laws, so you don't have chemical
plant security measures on the net for terrorists to tap into.
These are some common sense
provisions; unfortunately, the chemical lobby is one of the most
powerful ones in Washington. It spends more money than just about
any other lobby, including the pharmaceutical industry. They have
dragged their feet, in terms of wanting to move this issue forward.
I understand that there is no company out there that wants to be
regulated, companies are generally allergic to any intrusion in
their business decisions, but this is something of such great importance
that we can't afford to rely solely on voluntary measures.
It's overdue; it's time
that we acted. My hope is that the Lautenberg-Obama Chemical Security
and Safety Act moves in this Congress and I would urge all of you
to contact your legislators to suggest that this is in fact something
that you guys strongly support.
I appreciate your time,
and I look forward to talking to you next week. Bye bye.