Greenpeace calls on Bilirakis to support chemical plant safety

08/18/09 Mitch E.Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

Environmental activists today called on GOP Congressman Mike Bilirakis to support Congressional legislation that would reduce the risk of chemical plants across the country, such as the Howard F. Curran Wastewater Treatment Plant in Tampa.

Matt De Vlieger is the Florida Field Organizer with Greenpeace. Speaking in front of Congressman Bilirakis’ Temple Terrace District office, He stood in front of a map of the greater Tampa area, with symbols showing the over 100 schools and hospitals within a 5 mile radius of the plant.

Since 9/11, experts have warned that an attack on a chemical plant could produce hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries. Environmentalists and other advocates fought for strong safety rules, but they say that only weak legislation was offered back in 2006.

With that law sunsetting this fall, Congress is working on proposals for comprehensive chemical security legislation. But Greenpeace organizer Matt De Vlieger called out Bilirakis for his lack of support for such a bill.

Specifically, Greenpeace and other groups are calling attention to two billS that will be debated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee next month. HR 2868 and HR 3258 address reducing the consequences of a terrorist attack on such a plant.

The Department of Homeland Security has identified 6,300 facilities that, if attacked, could pose the greatest hazard to human life and health and has initiated programs to assist the industry and local communities in protecting chemical plants.

In 2004, DHS said such an attack on a chemical plant could kill over 17,000.

But even though Congressional action is being proposed to uniformly have such plants substitute safer chemicals or processes for lethal gases stored on site, the owners of some plants have unilaterally addressed such concerns.

Phil Compton is with The Sierra Club. He said that 90 days after the 9/11 attacks, Washington D.C. made changes to their water treatment plants. He said the risk is inherent locally, not knowing there could be an explosion.

Don Mehlman is with Physicians for Social Responsibility. He mentioned U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), still considered the nerve centers for the U.S. Wars in Iran and Afghanistan. CENTCOM is located at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa, which Mehlan says makes Tampa a potential terrorist target.

WMNF contacted the office of Congressman Bilirakis. Late in the day a spokesman for the Congressman, David Peluso, responded by e-mail, "As a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, I support efforts to ensure that our nation's chemical plants are as secure as possible. Earlier this year I supported an extension of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, which sets comprehensive federal security regulations for high-risk chemical facilities. Federal agencies must remain vigilant to make certain residents are not at risk.”

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