Hearings - Testimony
 
Full Committee
Inherently Safer Technology in the Context of Chemical Site Security
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
 
Philip J. Crowley, Director
National Defense and Homeland Security, Center for American Progress

Good morning. I am P.J. Crowley. I direct the homeland security program at the Center for American Progress. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss with you the challenge of chemical security and the opportunity – and indeed the security imperative – to employ inherently safer technology, materials and processes to make our society and economy less vulnerable to terrorism.

I will also briefly discuss the findings of a recent survey the Center for American Progress conducted of a wide range of chemical facilities across the country. The findings suggest both good news and bad news. The good news is that many facilities have successfully and economically switched to less acutely hazardous chemicals and processes. The survey data demonstrate that inherently safer technologies should be viewed as a viable and necessary component of chemical security. It reduces and in many cases eliminates terrorism risk to millions of Americans. It does not need to be studied. It needs to be embraced by the Department of Homeland Security and pursued as part of our national security strategy to protect the homeland. It should be specifically incorporated into legislation being considered by the Congress, because the bad news from our survey is that, while change is occurring, it is not happening fast enough.

At the outset, I should mention that I view this issue from a security vantage point, based on my experience over three decades as an Air Force officer, staff member of the National Security Council and national security analyst at the Center for the past two and a half years. I was working for the insurance industry in New York on September 11, four blocks from the World Trade Center. I understand the nature of terrorism risk and how it affects the private sector. From that experience, I do not view national security and economic productivity as competing priorities. We must do both.

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of 9-11. We can all be grateful that through the combined efforts of our military, our intelligence services and police, we have not been attacked again. In many respects, we are safer, but we are not safe. The threat to the United States is growing more dangerous and less predictable. And there is equal risk that we as a country are losing our sense of urgency and becoming complacent. We need to use this intervening period before we are attacked again to make our society and economy as secure as they can be. The Bush administration’s rhetoric – that we are fighting terrorists in Baghdad so we do not have to confront them in my native Boston or Cleveland – is at odds with the reality that can be seen from successful attacks in Madrid and London and the plot that was recently foiled in Canada, employing common, yet critical infrastructure against us.

The global jihadi movement is evolving. The next attack – and we should be clear that there will be other attacks – is more likely to be perpetrated by individuals who are “self-starters” – inspired by al Qaeda, linked to the movement through the Internet, but acting on their own. These people are likely to be newly radicalized and will be extremely difficult to detect. They may well already be here in the United States. The people of Oklahoma understand all too well that terrorism involves both domestic and international threats.

We also recognize that we cannot protect everything. The United States is a target-rich environment. We have to set priorities, something the Department of Homeland Security has yet to effectively do. The emphasis should be to protect infrastructure that, if attacked, represents the greatest risk to human life or would generate the most significant economic loss to the United States. Chemical and petro-chemical facilities fit both of these criteria, particularly those in or near major metropolitan areas. The emphasis must be on preventing or reducing our vulnerability to catastrophic terrorism. This is not an arbitrary judgment. It is specific to the threat we face – that terrorists are most likely to attack where they can kill as many innocent civilians as possible and have the most significant economic and political impact on our country.

The Department of Homeland Security says it is pursuing a risk-based strategy. In that context, both DHS and the Congress are appropriately focused on security at chemical facilities across the country. But it was disappointing to hear Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff, in comments in March to the American Chemistry Council, suggest that inherently safer technology is an environmental interest that has little to do with security. He is wrong.

A risk-based chemical security strategy should be integrated and multi-dimensional. It requires better physical security, an area of particular emphasis with the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and voluntary standards promoted by the American Chemistry Council. But physical security by itself is not enough. In some cases, it requires risk mitigation, which might involve changes in on-site storage and manufacture or facility relocation and consolidation. This too is not sufficient alone. We must also pursue risk elimination. Where safer and more secure technologies already exist and are readily available, we have an obligation to address these known vulnerabilities and in essence take as many chemical facilities and communities as possible off the terrorism target list. As a National Academy of Sciences report highlighted earlier this year, “The most desirable solution to preventing chemical releases is to reduce or eliminate the hazard where possible, not to control it.” This is the potential value of inherently safer technologies and manufacturing processes.

The Center for American Progress, with assistance from the National Association of State PIRGs and National Environmental Trust, conducted a survey of a wide range of facilities – 1,800 in all – that deregistered from the Risk Management Planning (RMP) program. Among the key findings:

- 284 facilities in 47 states have dramatically reduced the danger of a chemical release into nearby communities by switching to less acutely hazardous processes or chemicals or moving to safer locations. This action reduces or eliminates a clear terrorism threat to at least 38 million people. For example, the Mill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Cincinnati, Ohio eliminated the danger of an off-site chlorine gas release to an area encompassing 860,000 residents by switching to liquid bleach for disinfection. Likewise, the Water Pollution Control Facility in Wilmington, Delaware made a similar change, eliminating the danger to 560,000 nearby residents.

- Change can be accomplished economically. Of respondents that provided cost estimates, 87 percent spent less than $1 million and roughly half reported spending less than $100,000 to switch to safer alternatives.

- Our survey revealed that alternatives already exist in a range of applications: drinking water, wastewater, manufacturing, electric power production, hazardous waste management, agriculture and oil refineries. In virtually all cases, change involved the adoption of common technologies, not new innovation: for water treatment, a shift from the use of chlorine gas to liquid bleach or ultraviolet radiation; in manufacturing, the use of liquid rather than gaseous ammonia; for electrical utilities, the use of aqueous rather than anhydrous ammonia or solid rather than anhydrous sulfur dioxide. These and other changes do not need to be studied. They are already in use and need to be more widely adopted.

- The most common reasons cited for making changes included the security and safety of employees and nearby communities, as well as regulatory incentives and business opportunities. These facilities also saw opportunities to cut a variety of costs, requiring fewer physical security measures and hazardous material safety devices, making these operations more efficient and productive. This also took a significant burden off surrounding communities in terms of disaster planning and response.

While our survey results demonstrated that effective change can take place, it also revealed limitations in a purely market-driven response. For example, of the 284 facilities that adopted some form of inherently safer practices, only 10 percent represented the highest risk facilities – those that put 100,000 or more people at potential risk. At this pace, it would take another 45 years to eliminate this substantial risk to the American people. We do not have that much time to act.

There is also a fairness issue by relying on ad hoc local action rather than a national approach. Chemical security involves the transportation of hazardous materials, not just their manufacture and use. Many communities where change is taking place are also vital transportation hubs – Wilmington, Delaware; Jacksonville, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; Baltimore, Maryland; Omaha, Nebraska; Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They have taken the initiative to eliminate threats to their people, but potentially remain at risk because hazardous materials are still transported through these cities to neighboring states and communities that have not taken similar action. With this in mind, what then is the proper role of government to help promote change within communities and the private sector? As a security analyst, what is most important is to accelerate the pace of change and measurably reduce the risk of catastrophic terrorism to our society and economy. When it comes to our extraordinary military, we are constantly exploring how to invest in and employ new technologies that make us stronger. Why is it that we would not take the same approach to invest in and employ new technologies to make us more secure here at home? I think our citizens and our first responders deserve the same consideration that we rightly give our men and women in the military.

Voluntary actions should be encouraged, but the experience of the past five years shows that voluntary actions alone are not adequate to fully address this vulnerability. Government has the a responsibility to set strong safety and security standards, identify better alternatives, require needed security assessments and reporting, and create incentives for the private sector and cities and states to take action. We need a comprehensive national approach, not a series of disconnected local or regional actions.

To give one example of how this might work, consider the approximately 3,000 drinking water and wastewater treatment plants across the country that still use chlorine gas. DHS should identify the manufacture, transportation and use of chlorine gas for disinfection as posing an unacceptable risk to our society, when inherently safer alternatives clearly exist. But local officials and facility operators should determine how to best eliminate this risk, whether to convert to the use of liquid bleach, ultraviolet radiation or other process. Water treatment facilities represent an excellent starting point to implement a genuine risk-based approach to chemical security.

What needs to be done?

- The Department of Homeland Security should be granted authority to regulate chemical security and move high-hazard facilities to inherently safer technologies where practicable.

- With that authority, DHS should promulgate strong national standards to improve chemical security, including the manufacture, transportation and use of acutely hazardous materials. Particular emphasis should be given to the proximity of these acutely hazardous materials to major population centers across the United States that present the highest risk if successfully attacked by terrorists.

- Chemical facilities should be required to do comprehensive annual security risk assessments and report those findings to DHS and EPA. These risk assessments should include a thorough evaluation of less acutely hazardous alternatives. In the case of publicly traded companies, an assessment of risk and summary of actions taken should also be reported to shareholders.

- DHS, in conjunction with EPA, should embrace the adoption of inherently safer technology and processes as a key component of a risk-based national security strategy to protect the homeland. DHS should establish a Center of Excellence to promote the adoption of inherently safer technologies more broadly.

- The federal government should create a variety of incentives to promote change. This might include a mix of targeted grants, loans and tax credits. Rewards for facilities that meet or exceed stronger national standards should also be explored, including caps on liability if a terrorist attack does occur. Aggressive DHS enforcement would also involve sticks for those entities that do not meet stronger security standards.

The course that we have followed in the first five years of the war on terror cannot be sustained indefinitely. There will always be a need to aggressively but judiciously employ military force to intercept terrorists before they can strike the United States. But as we have seen over the past couple of years, offensive action by itself is not enough. Over time, our national security strategy must place greater emphasis on homeland security. But again, as good as our intelligence and police forces may be, they cannot be expected to anticipate and intercept every attack.

We must adapt our society to this new security environment. We must reduce our vulnerability to terrorism and narrow the potential for terrorists to successfully attack us here. We cannot create a risk-free environment, but that should not be used an excuse for inaction. The security of the United States should not be subject to the lowest common private sector denominator. Business as usual is no longer acceptable.

 

 

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