Environmental & Safety Law Update

Congress Considers Bills to Impose Heightened Safety Obligations Upon Chemical Facilities

Posted in Chemical Safety, CWA

By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced legislation yesterday intended to reduce the risk to communities from attack or catastrophic incident. The proposed legislation would require high risk chemical, oil refineries, and water facilities to assess and develop plans to address their vulnerabilities.  The legislation would also require the highest-risk facilities to use “Inherently Safer Technology” that would increase public and environmental safety. “Inherently Safer Technology” is understood by industry as a mandate for substitution of a “safer” product or process.

Senator Lautenberg introduced the legislation as two separate bills. The “Secure Water Facilities Act” and the “Secure Chemical Facilities Act”. As proposed, the Secure Chemical Facilities Act would be administered by the Department of Homeland Security, and the Secure Water Facilities Act would be administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Senator’s action came immediately after the national release of a report, The Danger In Our Backyards: The Threat of Chemical Facilities to Millions, that finds 12,440 facilities nationwide that possess large quantities of chemicals that put people at risk. Of these facilities, “89 put more than a million people at risk of a chemical disaster.” Across the country, there are also “384 facilities that put more than 100,000 people at risk and 2,043 that put more than 10,000 people at risk” in the event of an accident or terrorist attack.

The report also examines twelve high-risk sites across the country and finds that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately at risk from chemical releases from these facilities.