Congressman Peter King (R-NY), the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, faced protests from hundreds of New Yorkers and interfaith leaders this weekend over his plans to single out Muslim communities in upcoming Congressional hearings. While Rep. King seeks to look tough on terrorism by scapegoating people for their religious beliefs, last week he showed his willingness to leave New Yorkers and millions of other Americans vulnerable to a catastrophic terrorist attack on dangerous chemical plants.
Instead of ensuring that the highest risk chemical plants convert to safer technologies, King joined Representatives Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in supporting weak chemical plant security standards. Championed by chemical industry lobbyists, these rules leave 110 million Americans threatened by these pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction. In a press release, Congressman King explained why he supports the weak rules, but not the disaster prevention legislation that the chemical industry opposes: “Congress must ensure that DHS’s current authority is extended in a manner that protects our homeland without additional burdensome and costly requirements or job-crushing mandates.”
In case you need help translating those chemical industry talking points, “burdensome and costly requirements or job-crushing mandates” is code for the common sense requirement that if a chemical plant can use a safer chemical or process that would remove the threat of a poison gas disaster to hundreds of thousands of people, then it should do so. And in fact, an independent analysis showed that the disaster prevention legislation the House of Representatives passed in 2009 (which Rep. King voted against) would have created 8,000 jobs each year for the next decade, despite his unsubstantiated “job-crushing” claim.
While hundreds of facilities have already converted, many of the highest risk plants remain dangerous targets that terrorists could use to inflict mass casualties in almost every major American city. In fact, the highest risk chemical plant in the country, the Kuehne chemical facility in South Kearny New Jersey, threatens millions of people, many living across the river in Congressman King’s own state of New York. According to the facility’s report to the Environmental Protection Agency, 12 million people in the New York City-New Jersey area are threatened by the bulk storage of chlorine gas, which melts the lungs of victims and was used as a deadly chemical weapon in World War I.
Congressman Peter King appears more interested in political posturing and appeasing chemical industry lobbyists than tackling real terrorist threats like the risk of a poison gas disaster in New York and communities around the United States.