Statement of Senator Jon S. Corzine
November 14, 2001
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Subcommittee on Superfund on Toxics and Risk and Waste Management
Thank you, Madame Chairman. I want to start by thanking you, Senator Jeffords and Senator Clinton for working with me on S. 1602. Madame Chairman, your long-standing leadership in environmental and public health protection is a great asset to the Senate, and I am proud to have you as an original cosponsor of this bill. I also want to thank you and Senator Chafee for holding this hearing today. I think we need to get moving on this issue, and today=s hearing gives us an opportunity to gather information about how best to proceed.
Madame Chairman, in the wake of the attacks in New York and Washington, it is clear that we need to look at all of our nation=s assets and people as potential terrorist targets. We need to shore up vulnerabilities that have already been exploited, such as airline security. But just as importantly, we need to identify other vulnerabilities and address them proactively, before the fact.
I believe that one of our most obvious vulnerabilities is our nation=s chemical production, processing, transportation and disposal infrastructure. Like the Chairman=s home state, my state of New Jersey is the site of numerous industrial chemical facilities. These businesses have helped to build New Jersey=s economic strength, and they produce valuable products that are essential to the nation=s economy. But the chemicals found at these businesses also pose potentially grave risks to their workers and the communities that surround them. Some of these chemicals are highly toxic, such as chlorine, ammonia or hydrogen sulfide; others are highly flammable. They can all have major impacts on our communities.
In 1995, an explosion at a facility in Lodi, New Jersey killed five people. In June 1998, a release of cresol from a facility in Paterson, New Jersey forced the evacuation of a nearby school, and caused nausea and headaches in more than 50 kids, two of whom were hospitalized overnight. These incidents are troubling, but they pale in comparison to the most catastrophic chemical accidents that have occurred. The release of methyl isocyanate gas from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India in 1984 caused more than two thousand deaths and many thousands of injuries. And in September of this year, an explosion fertilizer plant in France caused 29 deaths, thousands of injuries, and damaged thousands of buildings.
Fortunately, we have not had such catastrophic accidents here in the United States. But there is no question that the potential for severe harm exists at some facilities. Some of the most compelling evidence in this regard are the worst-case release scenarios that have been developed by approximately 18,800 chemical facilities as part of EPA=s Risk Management Plan. One component of the worst-case scenarios is an estimate of the number of people that could be adversely affected by a Aworst-case@ release. An EPA analysis of the data shows that the median number of people affected by a toxic worst-case release is 1,500. That means that the worst-case scenario at thousands of plants has the potential to impact thousands of people. In the case of some plants that are close to large population centers, the number of people potentially impacted by a worst-case scenario is more than a million. I certainly don=t want to name any of those facilities in this forum, but suffice it to say that New Jersey, with its dense population, has its share.
Because of the potential to harm so many people by causing a chemical release, chemical plants are attractive targets to terrorists.
This is not just my opinion, Madame Chairman. The Department of Justice studied this matter last year and concluded in an April 18, 2000 Report that there is a Areal and credible threat@ that terrorists would try to cause an industrial chemical release in the foreseeable future. The Department noted that attacking an existing chemical facility, for example, presents an easier and more attractive alternative for terrorists than constructing a weapon of mass destruction. In addition, the Department concluded that many plants that contain hazardous chemicals would be attractive targets for terrorists because of the plants= proximity to densely populated areas.
Apart from this Justice Department threat assessment, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, conducted a study of more than 60 chemical plants in West Virginia, Georgia and Nevada. The Agency found that security at those plants ranged from fair to very poor.
Unfortunately, the Justice Department has not yet completed a related vulnerability assessment of the nation=s chemical industry that is required by law. I want to join with the American Chemistry Council in urging the Justice Department to complete this important study. It is more necessary than ever.
I know that the chemical industry takes safety seriously, and has been working hard to address security issues since September 11. The American Chemistry Council has issued security and transportation guidelines, and has scheduled meetings with its members to promote them. I applaud these actions, but I don=t think that they are a substitute for regulations. I believe that most companies will do the right thing, but I=m worried about the least common denominator. A company that wants to cut corners is not likely to implement voluntary guidelines. The American Chemistry Council or any other industry association cannot and should not be put in the position of having to self-regulate security standards. This is clearly a government role, and one that requires new tools at the federal level. Having said that, I want to add that I want to work with industry on this bill, and fully expect industry to play a key role in developing the regulations that the bill would require, as they typically do. But I believe there should be no dispute that new regulations are needed.
The primary reason is that there are currently no mandatory federal security standards for any chemical facilities. Even those in densely populated areas. Even those with large quantities of extremely hazardous chemicals. We do require owners and operators of such facilities to prepare risk management plans that analyze the potential off-site consequences of an accidental release of regulated substances. These reports must include plans to prevent an unintended release, and to mitigate the effects of such a release, should it occur. However, no federal requirements are currently in place that require specific steps to prevent releases caused by criminal or terrorist activity.
Madame Chairman, S. 1602, the Chemical Security Act of 2001, would give the Administration the mandate and the tools to take common sense steps to address the highest priority threats from accidents and attacks involving hazardous chemicals.
To enable the federal government to take action upon enactment to address the most serious risks on a case-by-case basis, the bill provides EPA and the Attorney General the authority to issue administrative orders and secure relief through the courts to abate an imminent and substantial endangerment from a potential accidental or criminal release.
To reduce threats in a more comprehensive way, the bill directs the EPA Administrator to consult with the Attorney General, states and localities to identify Ahigh priority@ categories within our chemical production, processing, transportation and disposal infrastructure. In designating these Ahigh priority@ categories, the Administrator is to consider a set of factors, including the severity of potential harm from a release, proximity to population centers, threats to critical infrastructure and national security, and other factors the Administrator considers appropriate. The bill also directs the Administrator to consider threshold quantities of chemicals in establishing high priority categories. This is to ensure that small businesses that pose little risk are not subject to the regulations.
The bill then directs EPA to work with the Justice Department to develop regulations for the high priority categories that will require them to take adequate actions to prevent, control and minimize the potential consequences of an accident or attack.
The bill includes other provisions to enable the EPA and the Attorney General to carry out and enforce the act, such as the authority to obtain information that may be needed, while providing for protection of trades secrets and national security information.
Madame Chairman, the legislation is not overly prescriptive, and this is intentional. I believe that in the wake of September 11, it is self-evident that the possibility of chemical attacks is something we need to examine. So the heart of the bill is a requirement that EPA and DOJ work with state and local agencies to ensure that the highest priority threats from chemical facilities are being addressed. But I don=t want to tie the hands of the Administration. I think that they should have wide latitude in determining what types of chemicals and facilities need to implement better security measures and take other measures to reduce risks. But I do think they need identify the biggest risks and go after them.
Madame Chairman, strengthening security at high priority chemical sources is an immediate and necessary step to safeguard our communities. Over the longer, term, however, I believe that our desire to protect our communities and our environment will be best served by reducing the use of hazardous chemicals. That=s why this bill includes provisions to require high priority chemical sources to reduce risks where practicable by using inherently safer technology, well-maintained secondary control equipment, robust security measures, and buffer zones.
We have seen this type of approach work in New Jersey, where the legislature enacted a law requiring facilities to implement alternate processes that would reduce the risk of a release of extremely hazardous substances. After the enactment of this law, the number of water treatment plants using levels of chlorine at a level considered extremely hazardous decreased from 575 in 1988 to 22 in September of 2001. Chlorine, which can cause a number of problems include burning of the skin and eyes, nosebleeds, chest pain, and death, was replaced by sodium hypochlorite or other much less hazardous chemicals or processes.
Finally, Madame Chairman, I want to say that like you, I am very disappointed that the Administration chose not to send witnesses to the hearing today. Congress and the Administration need to work together on chemical security, as we do on all of the post-September 11 challenges and vulnerabilities that we face. I know that EPA has been working on this issue, because I saw Administrator Whitman talking about it on CNN last Friday. Even if the Administration was not prepared to provide detailed testimony on the bill, they could have sent someone to answer whatever questions they are prepared to answer at this point. So I want to reiterate my call to the Administration to work with this committee and this Congress on chemical security. If you believe, as I do, that new federal authorities and regulations are needed, then help us craft a proposal. If you=re opposed to new security regulations, you need to explain that view to Congress and the American people. Thank you Madame Chairman.