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GAO Report Finds U.S. Chemical Plants An Attractive Terrorist Target, Unaddressed By Government

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123 chemical facilities have toxic chemical "worst-case" scenario releases that put more than one million nearby residents at risk of exposure to toxic gas

Source: U.S. Pirg

News Room

For Immediate Release:
March 19, 2003
For more information:
Jeremiah Baumann
202-546-9707

GAO Report Finds U.S. Chemical Plants An Attractive Terrorist Target, Unaddressed By Government

Washington, DC - On the same day that the Department of Homeland Security raised the domestic threat level from 'elevated' to 'high,' the research arm of Congress today issued a report finding that chemical plants are an attractive target for terrorists intent on causing economic harm or loss of life, but the government has no program for protecting American communities.

"This report is yet another wake-up call for federal policymakersó18 months after 9/11, our threat level is increasing, but chemical industry lobbying has blocked every effort to establish a chemical security plan," said Jeremiah Baumann, and environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a public interest advocacy organization. "It's time for Congress to enact a plan that requires the industry to increase security and remove targets where possible, by switching to safer chemicals and processes."

The report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), requested by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and John Dingell (D-MI), repeated warnings on the security threat posed by chemical plants issued by the FBI, the director of the CIA, the Army Surgeon General, a RAND study sponsored by the Air Force, and the National Research Council. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 123 chemical facilities have toxic chemical "worst-case" scenario releases that put more than one million nearby residents at risk of exposure to toxic gas. Approximately 700 facilities each put more than 100,000 people at risk.

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The Chemical Security Act, sponsored by Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works last July, would require these plants to submit vulnerability assessments as well as plans to increase security and implement safer practices. A similar plan developed by EPA Administrator Christine Whitman and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was abandoned last summer amid heavy industry lobbying. The GAO reported today that while EPA had authority under the Clean Air Act to issue the plan, the administration decided to drop the plan because of worry about lawsuits by industry.

After the Chemical Security Act passed the committee unanimously, the chemical industry led an extensive lobbying campaign to stop the full Senate from voting on the measure. While Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Committee, and Ridge and Whitman have all pledged develop a chemical security bill, no proposal has been announced. Sens. Jeffords and Corzine have reintroduced their legislation, and, joined by Rep. John Dingell, recently asked Whitman and Ridge to meet with them to develop legislation.

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