We're coming up on the three-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and we still haven't seen sufficient action from the government and industry to ensure that chemical plants are secure.
Think about it. We've had a midterm election since then - an election where security should have been a major issue. We've had war - actually, two wars - in response to threats and perceived threats from terrorists. And now we're about to have another presidential election. It seems like we've had plenty of opportunities to focus public attention on issues related to terrorism. But somehow relating that to the issue of chemical plant security can't seem to get any traction.
If you talk to everyone involved, you'd come away with the impression that no one is opposed to making chemical plants safer. Both Republicans and Democrats have plans, and President Bush has backed the GOP version. The chemical industry, too, in the form of the American Chemistry Council, claims to be leading the way in securing its members' plants against terrorist attacks.
Yet the issue has reached a stalemate in Congress.
Sometimes people get too close to an issue, and they start debating fine points, but they miss the big picture. Right now the debate seems to center on which legislation to pass. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., would require facilities to submit to Department of Homeland Security vulnerability assessments. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., would go a step further and require companies to consider switching to safer processes. Both sound like good ideas. If either one came up for a vote tomorrow, we'd urge immediate passage. But Corzine's bill is controversial because the chemical industry doesn't like the idea of the government deciding which chemicals it can use. And Democrats don't think Inhofe's bill goes far enough to ensure plant safety.
Here's some advice to Congress and the White House: This is the type of issue that can make voters angry. Politicians talk about serving the country and bipartisanship, but the reality is more about bickering and turf wars. So while we call for a serious debate and immediate passage of legislation on chemical plant security, instead we get days of meaningless debate and posturing about a constitutional amendment to stop gay marriages.
A few weeks ago, Tom Reilly, ACC's new president and chief executive officer, urged lawmakers to ``put aside their differences'' and pass chemical plant security legislation that will ``require all chemical facilities to address security as rigorously as do our members.'' Obviously he prefers Inhofe's bill. That would be an excellent start. We hope Congress was paying attention.
A year ago, in this same space, we advised Washington that the further removed from the events of Sept. 11, the more time it seems that Congress might feel it can take mulling the issue. Still, this is a concern that needs to be resolved soon. If an attack were to occur now, and the public discovered that legislation had been delayed by the likes of this question, the damage to the industry's reputation would be devastating.
The government knows that chemical plants are potential terrorist targets, and that an attack in the wrong place could kill thousands of citizens. The chemical industry has done much work to make its plants safer since Sept. 11, 2001, but it needs government help to do more.