This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Dent (R-PA) to H.R. 2868, the Homeland Security Act of 2002. H.R. 2868 was intended to enhance the protections against terrorist attacks of U.S. chemical facilities by establishing a number of new rules for their design and construction. The amendment would have eliminated the requirement in the bill that designs and techniques constituting “inherently safer technology” (IST) be required in all U.S. chemical facilities. “Inherently safer technology” has been defined by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as a the latest set of techniques and designs in which safety features are built into the process, rather than externally controlled and managed.
Rep. Dent, in his remarks in support of the amendment, said that the concept of what is “inherently safer technology” is “subjective and without a widely accepted definition.” He noted: “When the Department of Homeland Security's subject matter expert on IST was specifically asked what IST was, she responded, ‘There's enough debate in industry and academia that I can't take a position on that very topic.' The Deputy Under Secretary responsible for overseeing the program stated unequivocally that the Department had no staff capable of conducting an IST assessment.”
Dent argued that “no one at the Department of Homeland Security is in a position to dictate to a wide range of facilities what engineering process or chemicals should be used (to achieve IST) . . . It would be foolish to mandate IST in this bill when there is so much uncertainty and lack of expertise in the Department.” He also argued that the mandate of employing inherently safer technology “will cost American jobs . . . can we really afford unnecessary congressional mandates that provide little security?
Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX) opposed the amendment. She said that its impact would be simply to “extend the current chemical security program for another 3 years without any of the security enhancements we included in H.R. 2868.” She also said that Congress had “the responsibility to the public, the private sector, and the Department of Homeland Security to provide comprehensive, clear congressional guidance about how this program should be executed. The gentleman's amendment . . . just kicks the can down the road another three years. H.R. 2868 addresses acknowledged deficiencies in the current chemical facility security program (and) . . . requires the assessment, and, in some cases, implementation of safer technologies. If we . . . sacrifice all of these improvements (we will) ignore . . . the need to strengthen this program in several key areas.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 193-236. One hundred and seventy-one Republicans and twenty-two Democrats voted “aye”. All two hundred and thirty-six “nay” votes were cast by Democrats, including a majority of the most progressive House Members. As a result, the House defeated the effort eliminate the requirement that designs and techniques that constitute “inherently safer technology” be required in all U.S. chemical facilities.