New Regs Make Chemical Chiefs Cringe

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With indicted execs routinely walking the "perp line" on the evening news, you'd think corporate America would be falling over itself to demonstrate patriotism in the war on terrorism. Sure — but not when the bottom line is at stake.

Case in point: the chemical industry is gearing up a fierce lobby against a bill introduced by New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine. Passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee to pass late last month, the bill would impose greater federal regulation on chemical plants that are vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Some 15,000 facilities in the U.S. house toxic chemicals, and 123 of these have enough stockpiled that a leak at any one could threaten more than a million people in surrounding neighborhoods. U.S. intelligence has evidence that terror groups like al-Qaeda have eyed chemical facilities as targets; homeland security czar Tom Ridge worries there are "security deficiencies at dozens and dozens of those" facilities.

Safeguards at some are "horrendous," says Corzine. "People can walk into these plants with no one stopping them." Chemical facility owners worry the new federal regulations could cost them millions, particularly if they're required (as in some cases) to use less toxic chemical in their production line, which they argue is an expensive change. The American Chemistry Council, which represents the country's major chemical manufacturers, also insists that security measures its members are already voluntarily drawing up can be in place faster than anything the government dictate. The Corzine bill "in effect slows down the work that's underway on security," says John Connelly, a security expert with the Council.

The battle will heat up further next month, when Corzine plans to offer his bill as an amendment to legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security. That bill is currently under consideration in the Senate.