Senate Democrats Press For Stricter Chemical Security Requirements

A railroad boxcar filled with ammonium nitrate lays on its side near the remains of a fertilizer plant that exploded in April 2013 in West, Texas, killing several people and damaging buildings for blocks in every direction. Senate Democrats on Thursday pressed an Environmental Protection Agency official on whether the agency would issue stricter rules following the incident.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
March 7, 2014, 7:12 a.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats pressed an En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency of­fi­cial on Thursday about wheth­er the agency would tight­en chem­ic­al se­cur­ity re­quire­ments un­der an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der that Pres­id­ent Obama is­sued last year.

Sen­at­or Ed­ward Mar­key (D-Mass.) in­quired wheth­er the agency would man­date that com­mer­cial chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies re­place high-risk chem­ic­als and stor­age mech­an­isms with “in­her­ently safer” al­tern­at­ives whenev­er it is feas­ible to do so. Sen­at­or Tom Ud­all (D-N.M.) said cre­at­ing such re­quire­ments “is really the dir­ec­tion we need to move in,” while Sen­at­or Bar­bara Box­er (D-Cal­if.) said an in­ter­agency group that is con­sid­er­ing such re­quire­ments is not mov­ing fast enough.

However, Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry of­fi­cials have long op­posed the pro­spect of the gov­ern­ment mak­ing such in­her­ently-safer-tech­no­logy de­mands. Sen­at­or John Bar­rasso (R-Wyo.) said on Thursday that fed­er­al agen­cies should fo­cus on prop­erly en­for­cing ex­ist­ing rules rather than cre­at­ing new ones.

Mar­key noted that he in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion that would have re­quired in­her­ently-safer-tech­no­logy man­dates in 2009 when he was a mem­ber of the House.

At the time, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said they sup­por­ted such meas­ures, Mar­key said. But the Obama team’s po­s­i­tion seemed less clear this week.

Dur­ing a Thursday hear­ing of the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, EPA As­sist­ant Ad­min­is­trat­or Mathy Stan­i­slaus was non­com­mit­tal on the pro­spect of new man­dates.

He noted that an in­ter­agency work group had iden­ti­fied in­her­ently-safer-tech­no­logy re­quire­ments as one of sev­er­al op­tions the gov­ern­ment could pur­sue un­der last year’s pres­id­en­tial ex­ec­ut­ive or­der. The group is sched­uled to make form­al re­com­mend­a­tions to the White House in May, he said.

This ex­plan­a­tion did not ap­pear to sat­is­fy Mar­key, who re­cently as­sumed a spot on the en­vir­on­ment com­mit­tee va­cated when Obama ap­poin­ted former Sen­at­or Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to the post of U.S. am­bas­sad­or to China.

“Why is your an­swer not ‘yes’?” Mar­key asked when Stan­i­slaus did not prom­ise sup­port for the man­dates.

Box­er said she was un­sat­is­fied with the pace of work by the in­ter­agency group, which in­cludes of­fi­cials from the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment, En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, Oc­cu­pa­tion­al Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion and oth­ers. She noted that Obama had is­sued the ex­ec­ut­ive or­der last year in re­sponse to a cata­stroph­ic ex­plo­sion at a chem­ic­al fa­cil­ity in Texas and that, since then, ad­di­tion­al chem­ic­al mis­haps had oc­curred in Louisi­ana and West Vir­gin­ia.

She said the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency already had the au­thor­ity to make stricter re­quire­ments un­der the Clean Air Act and that the U.S. Chem­ic­al Safety Board had re­com­men­ded such a move.

“I call on the work­ing group to get busy — they’re not mov­ing as fast as I would like to see,” Box­er, the com­mit­tee chair­wo­man, said at the con­clu­sion of Thursday’s hear­ing.

The pres­sure on the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency to make new re­quire­ments comes as the chem­ic­al in­dustry is back­ing a House bill aimed at ex­tend­ing the life of the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment’s Chem­ic­al Fa­cil­ity An­ti­ter­ror­ism Stand­ards.

The DHS pro­gram does not man­date the use of in­her­ently safe tech­no­logy, and some House Demo­crats and labor uni­on of­fi­cials have called it in­ad­equate.

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