Vitter Summary Statement for Hearing on Preventing Potential Chemical Threats and Improving Safety
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works “Preventing Potential Chemical Threats and Improving Safety: Oversight of the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”
March 6, 2014
Thank you, Chairman Boxer, for convening this hearing today. The chemical industry is vital to my home state of Louisiana and our nation as a whole. It is estimated that the chemical industry alone invests more than $16 billion annually in safety, health, environmental, and security programs. Through industry initiatives like the American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care, which is a global industry effort to continuously improve employee safety and protect the health, environment and security of the communities in which the chemical industry operates, participating companies - who represent 85 percent of all U.S. chemical manufacturing capacity - have a worker safety rate nearly five times safer than the average of the U.S. manufacturing sector as a whole.
With that being said, the tragic explosions in Geismar, LA, and in West, TX, along with the chemical spill in West Virginia serve as proof that we can and must do better to strive for improvements to protect workers and our local communities.
I appreciate the leadership of Senator Manchin and Senator Boxer on the "Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act," and I look forward to continuing to actively work with both senators to address a number of concerns that have been raised in the hopes of finding common ground to advance this legislation. I also want to say I sincerely appreciate Senator Boxer agreeing with me yesterday to postpone a markup on this bill that had been tentatively discussed for next week so we can take the time to work together and make this a bipartisan effort we can hopefully move forward together and find successful compromise.
When tragic accidents like these occur, the first step is to diagnose the cause so we can find out how best to properly prevent such incidents in the future - reacting without the facts does not develop sound policy and can often exacerbate the problems.
From what we know, the facilities responsible for the incidents in West Virginia as well as in Texas were outliers, not members of national trade associations, not following best practices, and not following some current laws and regulations. These outliers are not representative of industry as a whole and they can be difficult to identify and regulate. I applaud organizations like the Fertilizer Institute for not waiting for government bureaucrats in Washington to develop top down solutions, but diligently working to address these problems on the ground with things like their online compliance assistance and their new ResponsibleAg program.
President Obama's Executive Order 13650 "Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security" includes some obviously important issues to be addressed, and quite frankly, it's embarrassing that at the federal level we need a Presidential order to accomplish some of them. Federal Agencies should be coordinating effectively amongst themselves and should always be doing an effective job of coordinating and passing information down to state and local officials as well as first responders. This is particularly true when we are talking about the health and safety of our nation's citizens and our brave first responders, including fire fighters, police officers, and emergency medical practitioners.
Everyone supports better coordination amongst government entities, but at a time when everyone in our country is being asked to do less with more Washington is the only place where we keep creating new programs and mandating more and more regulations and bureaucratic requirements burdening state and local governments as well as local job creators. I am pleased that the Executive Order focuses some on reviewing and better utilizing existing authorities which should always come before we develop new regulatory frameworks - how can anyone expect federal agencies to properly implement and oversee new rules and regulations when they can't implement and enforce the current laws on the books, or even coordinate their activities with other agencies and the affected localities?
I would like to briefly mention one area of the Executive Order I find particularly troubling and that is the potential mandating of "Inherently Safer Technology" or IST. As we will hear from some of our witnesses today, IST is a philosophy developed by and built into the chemical industry as businesses are always looking to lower risks and find safer alternatives. It is not a one size fits all approach or something any one government agency or regulatory program can adequately address. Such business practices encompasses more than just simply requiring the substitution of chemicals, such as factoring in risk shifting, unintended consequences, economic impacts, and feasibility. Mandating a "government knows best" approach would certainly be all costs, marginal or only theoretical benefits, adding an enormous regulatory burden while providing little risk reduction. The focus of the Executive Order working group should be on aspects that are actually implementable and will improve safety.
Thank you again Madam Chair for holding this important hearing and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.