NATIONAL PROPANE GAS ASSOCIATION
S.1602 – The Chemical Security Act of 2001
Before the SENATE committee on the Environment and Public Works
November 14, 2001
The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) appreciates the opportunity to present our concerns with S. 1602, as well as safety and security issues related to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
NPGA is the national trade association of the LP-gas (principally propane) industry with a membership of about 3,800 companies, including 39 affiliated state and regional associations representing members in all 50 states. Although the single largest group of NPGA members are retail marketers of propane gas, the membership includes propane producers, transporters and wholesalers, as well as manufacturers and distributors of associated equipment, containers and appliances.
Propane gas is used in over 18 million installations nationwide for home and commercial heating and cooking, in agriculture, in industrial processing, and as a clean air alternative engine fuel for both over-the-road vehicles and industrial lift trucks. Propane is a non-toxic substance designated as a clean air alternative fuel in both the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
It goes without saying that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks completely changed America’s public policy priorities and agenda. Before that date, the debate over chemical usage by industry centered on reducing or eliminating industrial accidents involving toxic substances. Now the terms of the debate have changed to emphasize the safety of the American people from deliberate attempts to cause harm through willful and wanton destruction. Individual companies have long sought to protect themselves, their employees, and their assets from criminals and vandals, and while these efforts are typically effective, they are not designed to ward off deliberate acts by suicidal killers. NPGA believes that while it may be impossible in every case for private sector businesses to defend themselves against attack from secretive, intelligent, patient, and well-trained terrorists, this does not mean that renewing one’s commitment to safety and security will not accrue benefits. Indeed, as Americans move beyond the horror of the attacks, issues of public safety will forever be viewed through the lens of private security.
NPGA believes that policymakers and the media need to avoid debates that only serve to stir up uncertainty and fear in the United States. For example, a study by Argonne National Laboratory was used to buttress a November 12, 2001 Washington Post article entitled “Toxic Chemicals’ Security Worries Officials.” The Argonne data underpins a chart showing relative numbers of deaths and injuries, but it is important for Congress and others to know that the U.S. Department of Transportation – the Argonne report’s sponsor – has essentially disavowed it and removed it from its website. The weaknesses of the Argonne study were made even more stark in a study performed by Visual Risk Technologies Inc. which concluded that “the study results [are] extremely suspect.”
Likewise, there are many weaknesses in S. 1602. Among other things, this bill would set up a bureaucratic nightmare of duplicative regulations that would overlap existing federal departmental jurisdictions causing the type of confusion that invariably weakens compliance. For example, S. 1602 requires the EPA Administrator to issue regulations within one year of enactment designating certain combinations of chemical sources and substances of concern as high priority categories based on the severity of the threat posed by an accidental release or criminal release from the chemical sources. This would duplicate the scope and purpose of the Risk Management Program regulations required by Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Moreover, it would require high-level negotiations with DOT because it specifically covers hazardous material motor vehicles, rolling stock, and containers, all of which are subject to existing DOT regulations.
S. 1602 would also require EPA to subsequently issue additional regulations to require each owner/operator of a chemical source within a high priority category to take adequate action, including safer design and maintenance, to prevent, control, and minimize the potential consequences of an accidental or criminal release. In the case of the propane industry, this would require EPA to duplicate fire safety regulations which already exist in every State based upon National Fire Protection Association safety standard 58 (NFPA 58), Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code, an ANSI consensus standard. NFPA 58 has been the primary source of propane industry safety regulations for 70 years. Congress should not seek to increase regulatory confusion in the propane industry because confusion will only lead to less safe operations.
Finally, S.1602 would make all information generated in implementing its provisions to be made available to the public except in cases of national security or trade secrets. This field has already been thoroughly plowed in the debate over the Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999 which severely limited EPA’s ability to publish detailed industrial worst-case scenario data on the internet for public – and terrorist – consumption.
Propane industry participants are well-versed in the need for product safety and stewardship, and the industry has been consistently proactive in this regard. Industry achievements and objectives are most visible in the debate over the Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999; in a negotiated retrofit program agreed to by industry and DOT; and a multi-million dollar industry-funded program to inform emergency responders on how to protect themselves.
In 1999, the industry anticipated the potential harmful uses of sensitive data required under EPA’s Risk Management Program regulations. At NPGA’s urging, Congress passed the Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999 to forbid EPA from publishing worst-case scenarios on the internet and to require EPA to exempt from the RMP rules flammable substances used as fuel. NPGA demonstrated that the RMP rules, if allowed to stand, would have: (1) harmed the human health and the environment by encouraging fuel switching to less environmentally benign fuels; (2) reduced safety by creating incentives to demand more small deliveries; and (3) burdened hundreds of thousands of propane customers with substantial federal paperwork requirements.
S. 1602 would contradict the Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999 with no justification. Congress unanimously passed this law after multiple hearings and appropriate committee consideration. Congress heeded the concerns expressed by firefighters and other emergency responders, large and small businesses, many sectors of the industrial community, federal, state, and local regulators, and others. With regard to the propane industry, there simply is no reason to undermine this recent Congressional decision.
Also in 1999, NPGA negotiated with DOT an estimated $50 million industry-wide retrofit of delivery vehicles to install the latest electronic delivery control devices and make other important operational changes that will increase safety. This program is making an already safe industry even safer. Propane is typically delivered from terminals to storage facilities in tractor-trailer size trucks. As part of the negotiated rulemaking with DOT, the propane industry agreed to retrofit these delivery vehicles on an aggressive schedule with the most advanced technology. Under regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation, all new vehicles of this type must have a passive shut-down system installed, i.e. no human intervention is needed to activate it in the event of a leak. All local delivery vehicles (bobtails) are being retrofitted with remote shutdown devices allowing drivers to stop the delivery of propane in the event of an emergency. The entire fleet of trucks must be retrofitted with the appropriate system no later than each truck’s first scheduled pressure test after July 1, 2001.
In recognition of their importance to public safety, NPGA members are also closely-tied in with emergency responders at the local level. Storage inventory data is provided in a standardized format to local fire departments through Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act reporting. Moreover, the industry is most proud of its multi-million dollar Propane Emergencies program which is the best source of information for preventing or responding to propane emergencies. This program has been sent free of charge by the industry to every professional and volunteer fire department in the United States. Developed by a team of highly qualified propane product and container specialists from NPGA, this program is a comprehensive educational safety program which includes a textbook, facilitator’s guide, and videotape that establishes a new level of readily-accessed reference information, along with workshops and interactive scenarios that increase the knowledge of procedures to use in the event of a variety of real-world emergency situations.
This award-winning program was launched as a cooperative effort between the NPGA and the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). The need for the development of high quality emergency response resources and training materials is a recognized priority within both the propane industry and emergency services community. Funded by industry assessments paid to PERC, the propane industry's financial commitment has permitted the creation of a 240-page textbook covering the physical properties of propane, design and construction features of both bulk and non-bulk propane containers, typical emergency scenarios, and tactical guidelines and considerations.
Safety in the propane industry is also enhanced by the rigorous regulation at the state level through National Fire Protection Association safety standard 58, LP-Gas Code. NFPA 58 is a comprehensive safety consensus standard adopted either by reference or direct incorporation into state regulations in all 50 states without exception. Very few propane industry operations are unaffected by the provisions of this standard.
In addition to industry initiatives to increase the safety and security of our nation’s fuel supply, the propane industry has many other aspects that need to be borne in mind by policymakers as decisions are made to allocate resources against potential future terrorist attacks. Among the most obvious are:
NPGA strongly believes that these features of the propane industry – combined with the aggressive, multi-million dollar safety program established by industry participants – reduce the risk of accidental or purposeful releases of propane in the United States.
Congress and appropriate executive branch agencies have a shared responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the American people. However, Congress and the executive branch also have the responsibility to acknowledge the existing ongoing efforts of the private sector to increase its own safety and security. The propane industry is clearly in the forefront of these positive efforts.
As Congress considers legislation to increase the safety and security of hazardous materials use and transportation in the United States, NPGA urges Members of Congress to review the following recommendations. First, any requirement to perform background checks on drivers seeking to obtain or renew hazardous materials endorsements to commercial drivers’ licenses should establish a goal of moving toward instant CDL background checks similar to the program for purchasing firearms. Such a program would greatly reduce waiting time, administrative burdens on the license-issuing agencies in the states, and allow government to access the latest watchlist information.
Second, Congress should seek to set up incentives to develop and deploy high technology to track safety and security of hazardous materials shipments, drivers, and other assets. Providing incentives is far preferable to mandating particular solutions because incentives allow private industry to continually develop better performing technologies that fit their unique needs.
Third, Congress should provide tax incentives to decentralize storage capacity for critical winter heating fuel supplies. In the same way that such fuel storage tax incentives help increase the dependability of America’s fuel delivery infrastructure, end users of heating fuels will be less susceptible to disruptions due to terrorism if the industry is given incentives to increase their decentralized storage capacity.
Fourth, NPGA strongly opposes expanding the funding scope of the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) Grants program beyond those areas currently authorized in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA). There is already an insufficient level of Congressional oversight of the HMEP program, and authorizing use of funds for terrorism will only make this problem worse. The propane industry has spent tens of millions of dollars voluntarily for worthwhile programs that make a real difference in safety, such as Propane Emergencies, and NPGA believes that expanding the scope of the HMEP program will only serve to justify extraction of additional millions from the hazardous materials transportation industry, the bulk of which comes from small companies.
Finally, if Congress believes that an approach such as that proposed in S. 1602 is warranted, NPGA urges the scope of the bill to be limited to toxic substances. This is clearly the focus of the public debate on terrorism, along with biological and nuclear weapons, and it would maintain consistency with Congress’ debate over the Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999.
Thank you for this opportunity to present NPGA’s views on S. 1602. Should you have questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to call.