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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...BAD CHEMISTRY (Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2007)
March 28, 2007




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March 28, 2007

Democrats in Congress have packed $20 billion of pork into the Iraq war spending bill, so why not lard on an all-politics solution to securing the nation's chemical facilities.

"Toxic" chemicals, as aficionados of endless political crusades know, have been a target of the environmental left for decades. After 9/11, they saw an opportunity. They've argued that the path to chemical security lies in requiring the industry to use "inherently safer technologies." Guess what "inherently safer" means: Banning some chemicals or requiring substitutes.

The substances greens consider most "unsafe" happen to be the ones they've been trying to eliminate for years, for reasons having nothing to do with terrorists. Inconveniently, most of these chemicals, such as chlorine, serve vital public-health purposes and have no substitutes. Opposed to this one-size-fits-all mandate for an entire industry stands the Department of Homeland Security. Late last year it issued broad draft regulations that laid out stringent standards for chemical-plant security, but gave companies flexibility to decide how to meet those standards.

This approach makes sense, because what we call the "chemical industry" is, like chemistry itself, various and complex. Different companies specialize in different chemicals, which have different security risks. Since 9/11, the industry has spent more than $3.5 billion on security measures. Rather than force each firm to start over with straight-jacket procedures, the Administration would build on the industry's specialized knowledge, giving it the freedom to develop innovative solutions.

Up to now, the green groups have had no success getting the government or previous Republican Congress to buy into banning chemicals to achieve "inherently safer" technologies. So they turned to the states. Three -- New Jersey, New York and Maryland -- have developed chemical security programs. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who as a Senator led an unsuccessful chemical-ban charge, is pushing to require facilities in his state to use "inherently safer" technologies.


The greens' banning-as-security strategy in the states has hit a snag: Homeland Security's draft regulations reserve the right of the federal government to pre-empt state laws in certain situations. The argument for pre-emption is national security, as with port or airline security. But after years of siccing the Environmental Protection Agency on their targets, the greens have turned to the new Democratic majority to give them "federalism."

And so a provision in last week's House Iraq war supplemental would block DHS from approving a chemical facility plan unless it "exceeds" state standards. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has included a provision that gives states the right to go beyond the federal government.

Let's hope Senate Republicans get these chemical provisions excised from the final war-spending bill. Homeland Security is within two weeks of issuing its final rules. Throwing a monkeywrench now will merely guarantee more years of wrangling over chemical security rules that should have been settled long ago. If greens and Democrats want to rid the world of chemicals for environmental reasons, then engage in an open debate about the pros and cons rather than waving "terror" as a ruse.



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