News

Meehan and Shimkus Step Up to Protect Security-Sensitive Chemical Information

01/13/2014

Shortly after the tragic accident at the West Fertilizer distribution facility in Texas, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) offered an amendment to legislation moving in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on an unrelated topic to require facilities that filed “top screens” listing flammable or explosives materials under the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) CFATS program to release this security-sensitive information to State Emergency Planning Commissions (SERC).  The justification was that this information disclosure would prevent future West, TX incidents.  To date, materials classified as explosives or flammables have not been implicated in the West, TX tragedy.  Information reported to SERCs is open to the public, defeating a key feature of the CFATS program.  Subsequent to the adoption of this amendment, the President issued Executive Order (EO) 13650 that directs several Federal agencies to assess the feasibility of sharing this kind of information with SERCs.  Despite the EO, Rep. Connolly (D-VA) attempted to offer two troubling amendments as the legislation, HR 2279, was being cleared for floor consideration that would have established EPA as the recipient of the security-sensitive information disclosed under the Waxman provision.  Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), Chairman of the E&C’s Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, opposed these amendments, which were subsequently rejected by the House Rules Committee.  When the bill came to the House floor, Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Infrastructure Protection, engaged in a colloquy with Rep. Shimkus affirming DHS’s responsibility to protect security-sensitive information and requested that the entire Waxman provision be revisited during conference with the Senate.  Rep. Shimkus promised that the provision would be reconsidered and removed to keep sensitive information from the wrong hands.  IME greatly appreciates the efforts of Reps. Meehan and Shimkus to reaffirm Congress’s pledge to protect security-sensitive information on explosives.