Washington, DC, May 6, 1999 – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may consider an amendment today to the federal Clean Air Act that would protect sensitive information from terrorist use. "If the current law stands, the federal government will essentially be aiding and abetting terrorists," noted Angela Logomasini, Director of Risk and Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
The current law requires that 66,000 industrial plants provide, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) make publicly available, "worst case scenario" data. The data must include the potential impacts of a catastrophic accidental chemical release, including the number of fatalities. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has indicated that he may offer an amendment to limit access strictly to local emergency planners.
The EPA initially proposed posting the information on the Internet, until FBI officials raised security concerns. Under that scenario, terrorists would have easy access to an anonymous, searchable database of potential targets and fatality figures. Still, the information – which firms must submit by June 22 – will be available via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Environmental activist groups say they will access the information under FOIA and post it on the Internet themselves.
"Environmental activists appear more concerned about scaring the public than ensuring public safety," said Logomasini. "With U.S. troops in combat overseas, perhaps members of Congress will take such threats seriously. The last thing we need is a federal policy that gives ideas and tools to potential terrorists."
Security professionals – including the FBI, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and many others – oppose placing the data on the internet, yet environmental activist groups remain unfazed. "Internet publication is key to environmental groups who want to scare the public by detailing how many people could die in the case of a catastrophic event – despite the fact that the probability of such events is exceedingly small. The pet in your home presents much more of a health and safety risk to your children than the local chemical plant, but we consider that risk acceptable," Logomasini explained. "Such environmentalist scare campaigns grossly exaggerate the risks and ignore the benefits of modern industry, such as the number of lives saved by pharmaceuticals produce in chemical plants."
CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010.