The American Chemistry Council said it welcomed indications July 25 that the Senate may alter chemical plant security legislation to address industry concerns, but officials said they remain worried about the direction Congress is taking.
Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., is pushing legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to identify chemicals that pose the most danger and have companies find safer substitutes or processes.
EPA estimates 125 U.S. chemical plants each would put about 1 million people at risk from a chemical release or terrorist attack.
Corzine's plan ran into some opposition at a July 25 meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wants a bigger role for the proposed Department of Homeland Security, and he echoed ACC concerns that the bill could impede industry's voluntary efforts to beef up security.
Inhofe said committee Chairman Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., and Corzine agreed to postpone action on the bill to try to resolve concerns. He withdrew his amendments, including one that would have grandfathered in the ACC's security initiatives, and the committee voted 19-0 to pass Corzine's bill.
Arlington, Va.-based ACC adopted formal security guidelines last month that its members must meet. The highest-risk facilities have 21 months to comply, while the least risky have until January 2005.
ACC spokesman Chris VandenHeuvel said, ``It's encouraging that there's clear, bipartisan support to improve legislation to make sure Congress doesn't slow down or stop ongoing progress.''
The council also is concerned about government deciding what is ``inherently safer'' technology or materials.
Environmentalists criticized what they said were changes Corzine already made to the bill, including tightening information available to the public, narrowing criminal liability for firms and reducing the number of covered chemicals.
ACC's proposals cover only its members, who account for about 90 percent of the nation's chemical production, with about 1,000 facilities.
However, there are another 14,000 plants that would be affected by Corzine's bill and are potential targets of terrorism.