Chemical plant security should be based on technology, not politics

As Congress considers legislation that would force our nation’s chemical plants to make expensive changes in their processes and technologies, we need to make sure that we don’t cripple our economy just to appease a small group of environmental activists — all in the name of purportedly greater safety.

That’s the danger we face from IST, or Inherently Safer Technology. What could be wrong with a law that contains such a noble goal as safety? It has to do with the complexity of a modern industrial economy providing the backdrop on which unintended consequences develop. A recent article in The Hill explains:

IST is governed by the laws of physics and engineering, not the laws of politics and emotion. A reduction in hazard will result in a reduction in risk if, and only if, that hazard is not displaced or replaced by another hazard. Even if it were possible to simply switch from one chemical to another, switching often results in the mere transfer of risk from the chemical plant to some other entity, perhaps the surrounding community, with no actual risk-reduction registered. For example, a government mandate that forces a company to reduce the amount of a particular chemical at a facility could very well result in an increase in transportation and safety risk. The company still has to maintain the same level of production capacity and the only way to maintain current capacity is to increase the number of shipments — through the community — going into the chemical plant.

The article also states that there’s no objective way to measure the notion of “inherently safer.” But there is an objective way to measure the costs that IST will impose on manufacturers and our economy. It’s a huge cost, both in terms of dollars and lost jobs. Even the Wichita water treatment plant is on a list of facilities targeted by environmental extremists as dangerous.

Chemical manufacturers, says the author, aren’t opposed to safety. In fact, the industry places great emphasis on safety and has spent billions on plant security since 9/11.

2 Comments

  • Anonymous -

    You did not mention that the “article” you said was in The Hill was in fact an op ed piece by the oil industry lobby, and on the blog, not in the main publication. No principles?

  • Scott Jensen -

    The American Chemistry Council strongly disagrees with those that claim you can secure all chemical facilities by simply requiring them to use different chemicals. Changing chemical processes is rarely as simple as activists and others suggest.
    An effective security plan addresses potential security vulnerabilities while at the same time taking into account other important considerations like protecting jobs, managing energy consumption and ensuring worker safety.

    America’s chemistry industry is the lifeblood of our economy, directly touching 96 percent of all manufactured goods. The business of chemistry employs nearly one million Americans and $500 billion worth of chemistry products flow through the economy.

    We understand Americans expect strong and decisive protective measures from facilities that use or store hazardous chemicals, and since 9/11, members of the American Chemistry Council have invested nearly $8 billion dollars to enhance security.

    In 2006 Congress passed bipartisan legislation requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to regulate the industry by establishing a comprehensive chemical security program, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). This program is up for renewal, and we along with the Obama administration fully support its extension.

    Under CFATS thousands of facilities across the country are taking action to thwart terrorist attacks while lowering the attractiveness to terrorists of these sites. The rules require chemical facilities to address a wide range of threats, such as preventing a bomb-laden car from reaching a target, or preventing the theft or diversion of materials from a site. However, they do not box facility operators into a singular approach for securing their facilities

    This is a security program with teeth and bite for those who fail to take security seriously. Any facility that fails to act can, and should, be fined and/or shut down by DHS.

    We are working with Congress to extend CFATS and ensure effective chemical security rules that do not shutdown facilities that provide good jobs and essential products.

    Scott Jensen, American Chemistry Council

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