H.R. 2868 was a bill that amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 in an effort to enhance the protections against terrorist attacks of U.S. chemical facilities. As with most important bills, before it could be considered the House first had to approve a resolution or “rule” setting the terms for its debate. This was a vote on the rule for H.R. 2868.
A major part of the debate focused on language in H.R. 2868 that required the application of “inherently safer technology” (IST) to chemical facilities. “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. Rep. Hastings (D-FL), who was leading the effort on behalf of the rule, said that the Republican minority “may argue that the implementation of IST standards will hurt small businesses and will cause job loss. However, IST is already recognized as a ‘best practice,’ and is widely accepted within the chemical sector.”
Hastings also noted that: “The concentration of lethal chemicals near large population centers makes these facilities attractive terrorist targets. The bill protects workers and neighbors of chemical facilities by asking the highest risk facilities to switch to safer chemicals and processes when it is economically feasible.” He claimed that the bill promoted “innovation and best practices to ensure that our citizens are protected and secure”, and noted that it had been endorsed by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and by the American Public Works Association.
Hastings added that only facilities that are judged most at-risk may be required to implement IST due to the danger posed by the release of large quantities of toxic substances at the facility. He also argued that, before IST is even implemented, it would have to be shown that incorporating IST would significantly reduce the risk of death, injury or serious adverse effects to human health and that implementation is technically feasible and cost-effective.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) was leading the opposition to the rule. He said he had “concerns that this bill fails to enhance our security and, at a time when we are facing 10 percent unemployment . . . could endanger economic recovery.” Diaz-Balart focused on the IST that Rep. Hastings had referenced. He said the legislation “allows the federal government to mandate the use of certain chemicals and technologies regardless of the efficiency and effectiveness of the IST.” Diaz-Balart noted that a witness from the Department of Homeland Security testified that the Department does not employ any specialists with IST expertise. Diaz-Balart went on to argue that “the IST is an attempt by the federal government to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to a complicated and disparate sector of our economy . . . It is not a good use of resources.”
The rule was approved by a vote of 233-182. All two hundred and thirty-three “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Eleven other Democrats joined all one hundred and seventy-one Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin formal debate on the bill designed to extend and enhance the authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security to protect chemical facilities.