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Water and Chemical Security – Whitman Got it Wrong

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an editorial by Christine Todd Whitman, titled “The Chemical Threat to America.” In the op-ed, the author calls on the Administration to expand and implement chemical security regulations in the water sector as a means to protect America. She advocates that the federal government should be able to mandate chemical processes and force water systems to use so-called Inherently Safer Technologies. Ms. Whitman is smart and capable, but on this issue she is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don’t see how expanding a failed chemical security program (i.e., CFATS) by including water would serve to enhance the nation’s safety. At this point, the greatest impact of additional regulation would be to heave more unfunded mandates on an already financially overburdened sector.

Are there facilities that have changed their chemical processes? Yes, but just because some have switched doesn’t mean they all can (or should). This is not a Coke vs. Pepsi decision, and it is concerning to read that the former head of the EPA doesn’t understand that.

The wastewater plant in DC she uses as an example did convert their processes following 9/11; however, it had been planning and preparing to do so for years prior to those terrible attacks on our nation. That’s because converting operations takes time and an immense amount of money.

Overlooked in the op-ed is that countless water systems across the nation have invested millions to protect the hazardous materials they store and use on site. Why those security upgrades, some of which include hiring their own police force, are “insufficient” is not addressed.

Also overlooked is the glaring possibility that two different Administrations and 10-years worth of Congressional legislators from both parties may have “neglected” to expand this regulation because they felt it was simply unnecessary.

I recommend that Ms. Whitman spend more time speaking to utility owners and operators concerning this issue and rethink her approach to addressing the security needs of water systems and the communities they serve.

L. Vance Taylor has worked to advance the mission of homeland security on Capitol Hill and in the private sector. One of only approximately 250 people in the nation with a Master’s degree in Homeland Security, Mr. Taylor combines specialized educational training with real-world experience to leverage successful outcomes for clients and stakeholders. Read More