Homeland Security Bill Littered with Attachments
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Pam Fessler has more.
PAM FESSLER: Harold Rogers is chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. He spoke to House and Senate negotiators earlier this week.
HAROLD ROGERS: The recent anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks and the 2005 hurricane disasters keep us focused on why we're here - to protect our citizens and homeland from any threat.
FESSLER: Democrats and environmental groups complain that that last measure - the product of lengthy closed-door negotiations - is too weak.
ROBERT BYRD: We cannot afford to be so vulnerable.
FESSLER: Democratic Senator Robert Byrd noted that stronger legislation was approved by committees in both Houses, but that it was effectively killed by the opposition of the chemical industry and congressional supporters.
BYRD: I can say with great confidence that if there ever is an attack on a chemical plant, the American people will simply not understand.
FESSLER: But Senate Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg said the bill gives the secretary of Homeland Security the authority to require chemical facilities to tighten security. And he can shut them down if they don't comply.
JUDD GREGG: The fact is that this was the best proposal that we could get, and it's - in my opinion - significantly better than nothing, which is where we'd be if we didn't do this proposal.
FESSLER: So on a party-line vote, negotiators rejected an attempt by Senator Byrd to broaden the provisions. Under the bill, the Homeland Security secretary has six months to set security standards for about 3,400 chemical facilities. But opponents say the bill, if approved, remains vague about what those standards should be. Andy Igrejas is with the National Environmental Trust.
ANDY IGREJAS: I'm worried that what we're going to see is that this is going to be an exchange of paper between the private sector and the government - where the government will lack the ability to really get in and say hey, you need to do x, y and z.
FESSLER: He complains, for example, that there's no ability to require companies to use safer chemicals. But Marty Durbin of the American Chemistry Council says his group's members have already spent about $3 billion to upgrade security and that other facilities will now be required to take similar steps.
MARTY DURBIN: I think DHS has the authority it needs to put robust set of regulations in place, and we would fully support that.
FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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