This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Thompson (D-Miss) to H.R. 2868, the Homeland Security Act of 2002. H.R. 2868 was primarily intended to enhance the protections against terrorist attacks on U.S. chemical facilities. The amendment clarified the kind of information about chemical facilities that the Department of Homeland Security is obligated to disclose. The chemical industry had voiced its opposition to the amendment, expressing its concern that the real purpose was to provide information which environmentalists and trial lawyers could use to bring law suits against companies that operated the facilities.
Rep. Thompson chairs the subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which developed H.R. 2868. He said that the purpose of his amendment was to clarify “the types of information we were excluding from the definition of protected information” and was designed to insure that certain information was made publicly available. Thompson also said the information that the amendment was designed to make available is information that “is required to be made publicly available under any other law, or information that a chemical facility has lawfully disclosed under another law.”
He added that “the Department of Homeland Security can (also) determine by regulation that certain information provided for compliance purposes is not protected. This information may include summary data on the number of facilities that have submitted site security plans or the number of enforcement actions taken, so long as information detrimental to chemical security is not disclosed.”
Rep. Barton, the Ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, led the opposition to the amendment. He first agreed that Congress did not want “to give the Department of Homeland Security the ability to prevent (disclosure of) information that has already been publicly disclosed by somebody we regulate as part of the site security plan.” Barton then referenced the overall security purpose of H.R. 2868, and said, “if we're going to have a terrorist security bill . . . it ought to be a real terrorist security bill. But the underlying bill is . . . a radical environmental bill masquerading as a security bill.” He said he strongly opposed the amendment because it “fundamentally weakens the ostensible purpose of (H.R. 2868 and) . . . is a glaring creation of a loophole to give environmental groups and other outside groups the ability to put information on their web sites that's not subject to the penalties of this bill.”
Rep. Barton went on to say that the amendment would create a “new loophole, that if a group that is not controlled by Homeland Security (and) somehow gets (sensitive) information, they can publish it. They can put it on their web site, and they're not liable.” Barton argued “that's detrimental to the security . . . of the United States of America.”
Rep. Thompson responded that Rep. Barton was “exactly wrong” because the amendment “does the exact opposite. It protects information, and that's why we put it in there. It . . . is a security piece of legislation . . . .” Rep. Markey (D-Mass) supported the amendment and Rep. Thompson’s response. Markey said the purpose of the bill is “to protect the American people from the (terrorist) attempts by al Qaeda . . . It's not any attempt to have an environmental agenda here at all.”
The amendment passed by a vote of 253-168 along straight party lines. All two hundred and fifty-three votes were cast by Democrats. All one hundred and sixty-eight “nay” votes were casts by Republicans. As a result, the House approved the amendment that clarified the kind of information about chemical facilities that the Department of Homeland is obligated to disclose.