U.S. Chem Industry Fights State Regulation of Haz-Mat, Security

An advocate for the American chemical industry has urged the U.S. Congress to strengthen the haz-mat bill's preemption of state laws on the subject.

"We need to make sure that we don't have a patchwork of standards at the state level," Marty Durbin, director of federal affairs for the American Chemistry Council, told a Homeland Security subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week, CongressDaily reported.

Durbin suggested the legislation be amended to use preemption language in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, where state laws are preempted unless they are "substantively the same as" federal law.

The bill, introduced by Homeland Security Economic Security Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., would pre-empt only laws that "frustrate" federal regulation and allow those that do not conflict with federal law to remain in place, CongressDaily said.

Although it was not discussed at Thursday's hearing, legislation introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, would also leave state laws intact if they do not conflict with federal law, without addressing those that might "frustrate" federal regulation, the report said.

Lungren introduced his bill Wednesday. It would give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversight of the nation's estimated 15,000 chemical plants, with the authority to rank and assess those plants based on risk.

But while Durbin argued for greater federal preemption of state laws, Philip Crowley, senior fellow and director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress, warned against it. "Federal action should strengthen security floors, not create ceilings," he said.

Lungren's bill appeared to have the support of committee Democrats, including Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Economic Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Loretta Sanchez of California, CongressDaily said.