Senator Inhofe Blocks Chemical Security Bill

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

Legislation that would require chemical plants to develop stronger security in the face of terrorist threats is being blocked by conservative Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). The Portland Press Herald reported July 5 that Inhofe, who heads the Senate Environment Committee and has a record of opposing environmental initiatives (see the Our Planet column, is blocking a Senate floor vote on the bill out of concern that the bill would force chemical companies to stop producing especially toxic chemicals. Inhofe, who also denies the reality of global warming and has sponsored Senate appearances by climate skeptic and novelist Michael Crichton, takes this stand despite the fact that the chemical security bill is generally supported by the industry it intends to regulate. According to Inhofe, chemical companies "do not need the federal government coming in and telling them specifically how to manufacture products."

Supporters of the bill point to the accidental 1984 release of the chemical methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India. The release killed 3,000 people and injured 200,000. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15,000 plants in the U.S. have enough chemicals on hand to kill people in the surrounding areas, and 100 of them harbor enough toxins to kill a million people each. As written, the chemical safety bill is unlikely to force changes in the chemicals plants manufacture because an amendment that took just that approach (sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-CT) was defeated. Senators who opposed Lieberman’s amendment (including Inhofe) received $819,900 from chemical companies required to submit disaster plans to the EPA, says Greenpeace.