Protecting the homeland is a difficult task. U.S. leaders must
craft policies that simultaneously fight terrorism, allow the
economy to grow and prosper, and safeguard the liberties of
individual citizens. Keeping America safe, free, and prosperous is
a challenge that can only be met through full and open debate by
concerned and informed legislators. That is why the omnibus
spending bill is a disservice to the American people. Thrown
together in Congress's rush to begin its Christmas holiday, the
3,565-page bill would undermine congressional policies that have
been set after scores of hearings, testimonies, meetings, and
Among its problematic provisions, the bill includes language
that would add layers of unnecessary security regulations
concerning the nation's critical infrastructure. To protect the
economy and the integrity of the lawmaking process, Congress should
remove excessive regulations from the omnibus appropriations bill.
If Congress refuses to correct the many problems with the bill,
President Bush should veto it.
In the wake of 9/11, Congress recognized the need to address
terrorist threats against critical infrastructure, including the
handful of major facilities where a release of hazardous materials
could result in catastrophic threats to life and property. At the
same time, Congress realized that chemical infrastructure is
ubiquitous; it includes facilities for pumping gas, delivering home
heating oil, refining gasoline, and manufacturing fertilizer.
Establishing federal regulatory security standards for every
activity would be a massive and expensive undertaking, but a
one-size-fits-all approach is no more attractive. Though
terrorists might try to turn these instruments of everyday
life into weapons, that is true for many things. Excessive
regulation and unnecessary security would hamstring the economy
without making the nation much safer.
Congress has recognized that homeland security efforts need to
be prioritized based on risk. With regard to chemical security,
that means focusing on two areas: dangers that local emergency
responders and hazardous material teams cannot handle and threats
against chemical infrastructure (like large-scale plants and
storage facilities) where attacks would cause catastrophic damage
threatening tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in
property. For this top tier of threats, it was reasonable to
require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish
and enforce mandatory standards for preventing unauthorized access
to facilities, securing critical areas, and responding to
After years of debate and study, Congress passed in September
2006 a homeland security appropriations bill that required the
department to propose "rules requiring high-risk chemical
facilities to assess their security weaknesses and implement plans
to address them." The bill became law in October 2006. That law
struck a reasonable balance between securing facilities and
ensuring that the chemical industry remains a vital, competitive
part of the American economy.
Hijacking Chemical Security
The 2006 law was not good enough for Senator Frank Lautenberg
(D-NJ), who slipped into the omnibus bill a provision that would
allow state and local governments to pass laws that go beyond
federal rules in regulating security at chemical plants.
Activist groups have long sought to use "homeland security"
regulations as a means to impose their agenda on the chemical
industry. This measure would give them avenues to preempt
reasonable national standards.
The 2006 law makes clear that the private sector's job is to take
reasonable measures to prevent malicious use of its
facilities. Today, decisions about which chemicals are the most
appropriate for industrial uses are based on a number of factors,
including safety, environmental and health risks, and customer
needs. These are not matters that should be regulated under
the guise of homeland security.
Excessive regulation of chemical plants would hamstring the
economy without making the nation much safer. Furthermore,
including this measure in the omnibus bill circumvents deliberation
by Congress and the Administration, illustrating how "sledgehammer"
legislating undermines the democratic process. This is just one
example of the troubling policy riders that plague the
bill. If Congress does not remove these riders, the earmarks,
and the spending gimmicks, President Bush should veto the omnibus
Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The