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Bill Proposes Voluntary Security Measures in Chemical Industry

By John Mintz
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Washington

The Bush administration is proposing new legislation to improve security standards at chemical plants that will emphasize voluntary compliance by an industry that some experts say is one of the nation’s most vulnerable to catastrophic terrorist attack.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is working with the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to craft a bill that would require chemical companies to abide by standards drawn up by their industry association, rather than be subject to mandatory government measures advocated by environmental activists and many Democrats, officials said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 123 chemical plants where a terrorist attack could, in a “worst-case” scenario, kill more than 1 million people.

Besides the airline industry, which saw tightened security demanded by the U.S. government after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the chemical industry is the first business sector that the administration has sought to regulate to lessen the danger of terrorism. Homeland Security officials are considering how to harden many elements of the nation’s “critical infrastructure,” which includes gas pipelines and water plants, and they say chemical plants are one of the most worrisome sectors.

The administration’s bill, expected to be unveiled later this month, tracks with the laissez-faire environmental policies that President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pursued when they were the governors of Texas and Pennsylvania, respectively, administration officials and activists said.

The Republican legislation will propose that chemical firms must abide by security standards, mostly governing areas such as fencing and security cameras, promulgated by the industry’s trade association, the American Chemistry Council, sources said. It also requires each firm to perform a self-assessment of its security vulnerabilities, under a plan developed by the industry council.

The measure rejects so-called hazard reduction requirements proposed in a competing Democratic bill.