This was a vote on passage of H.R. 2868, which amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 in an effort to extend and enhance the protections against terrorist attacks of U.S. chemical facilities. Among the new set of rules required by H.R. 2868 was one that provided additional protection of whistle blowers, and another that expanded the ability of civil law suits against the Department of Homeland Security, which administers federal regulation of chemical facility safety.
The most controversial aspect of the bill was that it required the application of “inherently safer technology” (IST) to chemical facility security. “Inherently safer technology” has been defined by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as a set of techniques and designs in which safety features are built into the process, rather than externally controlled and managed. The implementation of IST was a controversial issue. Those supporting it, such as Rep. Hastings (D-FL), argued that “it is recognized as a ‘best practice,’ and is widely accepted within the chemical sector.” Those opposed to it argued that it created a vague standard, that it applied undue burdens on industry, and that the Department of Homeland Security did not have the resources or expertise to monitor its implementation effectively.
Rep. Thompson (D-MS) was leading the effort in support of the bill. He said the bill “closes a major security gap identified by both the Bush and Obama administrations” in drinking water and wastewater facilities” and implements “reasonable, risk-based security standards for chemical facilities.” Thompson argued that the bill accomplished this by requiring the incorporation of “best practice”. Referring to the required implementation of inherently safe technology, Thompson claimed that companies that assess security concerns and respond to them by using IST “often find that good security equals good business.”
Thompson noted that some Republicans were arguing for an extension of the current Department of Homeland Security authority in this area. He said: “Such an approach flies in the face of testimony that we received about gaps in (the current security protection of these facilities) and would be a rejection of all the carefully tailored security enhancements in the bill.”
Rep. King (R-NY) was leading the opposition to the measure. He began his argument by noting that the Department of Homeland Security had asked for a one-year extension of its current authority, rather than any changes in it. King then said he opposed the legislation because “it is going to create confusion and undue cost. It is going to cost jobs, and it's going to raise taxes. It gives far too much credibility to IST, or inherently safer technology, which is a concept (that) . . . will have a very stifling effect on the private sector.”
King went on to say: “The current law is working. . . I believe that we took a good concept . . . of enhancing chemical plant security, and have allowed concepts and ideas regarding the environment . . . to have too large an influence on this bill.” He then focused on the provision that expanded the ability of private entities to file suit against the Department of Homeland Security. King argued that “with all the work the department has to do, with the difficulty there is in bringing all of these thousands of entities into compliance with the law, I believe the last thing they need right now is to be subjected to civil lawsuits . . . .”
The legislation passed by a vote of 230-193. All two hundred and thirty “aye” votes were cast by Democrats, including a majority of the most progressive Members. Twenty-one other Democrats, joined by all one hundred and seventy-two Republicans who were present, voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed and sent on to the Senate the bill designed to extend and enhance the authority of the Department of Homeland Security to protect against acts of terrorism aimed at chemical facilities.