Citizen lawsuits won’t enhance chemical safety

Legislation currently under consideration in Congress will allow citizens to sue the Department of Homeland Security if they believe that chemical plants are not in compliance with new regulations.

The new regulations — IST, or Inherently Safer Technology — are troubling enough, in that they may actually work against their stated goal of safety. Allowing citizens to bring lawsuits based on these regulations will create many problems.

In a Washington Times piece, two Washington lawmakers explain the risks and dangers that this law will bring about:

  • “… civil lawsuits would necessitate DHS diverting its limited resources from its core mission — protecting American lives from terrorists.”
  • “… civil lawsuits, and the discovery process involved, could very well lead to the public disclosure of sensitive — even classified — security information about U.S. chemical facilities and DHS’ assessments of those facilities.”
  • “To allow civil lawsuits against DHS in this area has the real potential to make the American people less safe. DHS itself has warned Congress of the potential consequences.”

The Endangered Species Act contains provisions that allow for citizen lawsuits. The result? The authors write: “As a result, biologists then divert their attention away from protecting species to responding to the lawsuit and reacting to any judicial decisions. In 2002, this brought the Fish and Wildlife Service to a standstill.”

Let’s not saddle the Department of Homeland Security with the same burden.

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