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Saturday, September 18, 2004

Terrorists and Lobbyists 

Via Rorschach at No Capital, further proof that there will be no securing the country against terrorists until Congress is secured against lobbyists:
Six months after 9/11, reporter Carl Prine of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review decided to find out how well chemical plants were protected from intruders. Not far from Pittsburgh, at a warehouse in Forward Township owned by Vopak, a leading chemical distributor, he spent more than an hour onsite without being accosted, even climbing atop chemical tanks and rail cars storing highly toxic chlorine. Vopak's warehouse is one of at least 123 plants nationwide where an accident or attack involving lethal chemicals could endanger more than 1 million people living nearby.

Over the next two months, Prine visited another thirty chemical factories, shippers and warehouses in Baltimore, Chicago and Houston. He found "safeguards so lax that a potential terrorist can easily reach massive tanks of toxins that endanger millions." Not only could a stranger enter unmolested, workers often gave him directions to the most sensitive valves and control rooms. More than half the plants had "no noticeable [security] cameras, fences or locks at all." A return investigation found few improvements . . . .

In October 2001, Senator Jon Corzine introduced the Chemical Security Act. It would have given the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate security at 15,000 chemical facilities around the country. It would also have required them, where "practicable," to use inherently safer technologies and thus reduce the dangerous chemicals onsite. Corzine's bill sailed through the Environment and Public Works Committee, at first. But then the American Chemistry Council (ACC) got involved, charging that the bill would lead to "government micromanagement." Fearful of the agency's tough reputation, it also opposed giving the EPA authority to oversee security efforts. And it insisted that its self-imposed safety code was adequate, although it was voluntary and barely covered 1,000 plants.

By early September 2002 six key GOP senators--Kit Bond, Mike Crapo, James Inhofe, Bob Smith, Arlen Specter and George Voinovich--had publicly changed their minds about the bill they had earlier voted for in committee, claiming it could "hurt our nation." They were joined by senators George Allen and Richard Shelby. These eight Republicans are among the top lifetime recipients of chemical-industry cash . . . . (George W. Bush has done mighty well by the chemical industry, by the way. Ten people connected to it were "Pioneer" donors in 2000. One, Frederick Webber, was then the president of the ACC. The industry has made Bush its number-one recipient of campaign largesse, giving him around $1.2 million since 1999.)

The killing of the Corzine bill should haunt anyone familiar with how the airline industry stymied efforts to toughen airport security practices in the late 1990s, insisting that self-regulation was best . . . . Even now, air-safety measures are being watered down to appease the airline lobby. A provision of the 2003 aviation reauthorization bill mandating security training for flight attendants was deleted in conference by Representative Tom DeLay, at the industry's behest.

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