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Stronger rules urged for chemical plants

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<-- TerrorSpeak
<-- Right-to-Know or Left-to-Wonder?
<-- MapCruzin News

Source: Star-Ledger

Stronger rules urged for chemical plants

Corzine: N.J. plan leaves sites a terror target

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

BY ALEXANDER LANE
Star-Ledger Staff

The administration of Gov. James E. McGreevey has drafted a new chemical plant security policy that is drawing fire from Sen. Jon Corzine and other critics, who say it would be too weak to guard against terrorist attacks.

The policy takes the form of a memorandum of understanding between the state and three chemical industry organizations. Environmentalists and industry advocates who have seen drafts said the agreement would allow businesses to escape state regulations by following the security guidelines of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group.

Both critics and advocates of the new policy said it could serve as a model for other states grappling with the question of how to prevent terrorists from turning industrial facilities into weapons of mass destruction.

"It would be an unfortunate model," said Darius Goore, a spokesman for Corzine, who has been pushing for stronger plant security rules since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. "Senator Corzine believes we need a strong regulatory approach with strong requirements and serious teeth."

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell countered that the state could still impose stricter regulations.

"This does not leave industry to police itself," Campbell said. "What it will ensure is that we have a better sense of what's happening on the ground in these facilities as we try to develop additional requirements."

New Jersey is third in the nation in chemical production. With its dense population and proximity to Ground Zero, the state has been central to the post-9/11 discussion of how to protect industrial facilities.

There are eight facilities in New Jersey -- and 123 in the country -- that could release clouds of toxic gas deadly enough to harm more than a million people in surrounding areas, the Environmental Protection Agency has said. Experts have identified the stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike near Newark Liberty International Airport as one of the most vulnerable areas in the country, since a catastrophe there could force the shutdown of the Turnpike, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and the airport.

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The memorandum would require chemical plants to adhere to the Responsible Care Security Code, a set of guidelines crafted by the American Chemistry Council. The DEP would develop a program to inspect facilities and determine whether they are living up to those standards, a draft of the memo said. Any companies choosing not to participate would be subject to state security regulations, which have yet to be created but presumably would be harsher.

Jamie Conrad, a lawyer for the American Chemistry Council, said the Responsible Care standards run hundreds of pages, providing extensive guidance on plant security.

"There's an enormous amount of detail in these guidance documents as to how to do it," Conrad said.

But Rick Engler of the Work Environment Council, a group that links organized labor and environmental issues, said industry should not be able to write its own rules.

"We think it's outrageous," Engler said. "It's kind of ironic that this secret deal is being cooked up in the home state of Senator Corzine, who is leading the fight for national standards."

Corzine introduced strict new federal chemical security standards, the Chemical Security Act, within two months of the 9/11 attacks. A Senate committee approved it unanimously, but after vigorous lobbying by the chemical industry -- which made more than $1 million in campaign contributions to legislators in the summer of 2002 -- support dried up.

A more industry-friendly bill supported by the White House seems more likely to pass.

Industry advocates pointed out that the state's new memorandum is just one more phase of a broad post-9/11 reassessment of plant security. A year-and-a-half ago, the state Office of Counter Terrorism distributed best-management practices to several industries, and imposed stricter standards on the 100 most critical facilities, some of which were chemical plants.

But Engler argued that there should be broad, protective regulations for all 4,000 facilities in the state that use 10,000 pounds or more of hazardous substances.

The memorandum would be signed by the American Chemistry Council, the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, the DEP and the state Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force.

Campbell said he had not decided whether the agreement will be executed, but if so, it probably would happen before the end of the year.

Alexander Lane covers the environment. He can be reached at alane@starledger.com or (973) 392-1790.

<-- TerrorSpeak
<-- Right-to-Know or Left-to-Wonder?
<-- MapCruzin News

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