Chertoff, keeping us just as safe as private industry will allow

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 at 05:38 PM

When does a proposal to make you safer have serious potential to make you less safe?  When it's a plan offered by a Republican official and geared as much to protecting the industry from regulatory burdens as much as it is to protecting the public from the dangers of terrorism.

Michael Chertoff, our stalwart Homeland Security chief spoke Tuesday at a forum sponsored by George Washington University and the American Chemistry Council.  According to the report by the NY Times, Cheroff said the administration supported a uniform federal anti-terrorism safety standard for the nation's 15,000 chemical plants and other industrial facilities that use or store significant quantities of dangerous chemicals.

Sounds good, but that probably means that the individual states would be preempted from employing safety standards that were more stringent than the fed's standard (ah, the old "uniformity in food labeling" trick!).

And, of course, while he favors a "uniform" standard, many observers think that it will be a uniformly weak standard that causes the chem companies minimal pain and effort.  For example, Chertoff outlined the administration's opposition to forcing the chemical companies to switch from using more dangerous chemicals to less dangerous ones that can serve the same function.  But of course the industry could volunteer to do that.

Similarly, the administration sees enforcement as a matter of private sector oversight, which he said would be similar to the way auditors certify compliance with accounting standards (no report on whether there was widespread laughter that this statement comes during the Enron trial).

Among the critics was Dan Katz, chief counsel to New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who said:

That is the Enron mentality: trust industry and put the public at risk.  But unlike Enron, the risk here is not that people will lose some of their stock savings. It is that we could have a catastrophic terrorist event.

Yeah, least we wouldn't violate the very first law of 21st century laissez faire capitalism: people are a dime a dozen, but dollars are a gift from God to his favorite little corporations.