TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Calling it a deal being struck in secret, environmentalists and chemical workers unions on Thursday urged acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to shelve an agreement being worked out between state and its chemical industry on plant security.
Under the proposed agreement, the companies would collaborate on a site-by-site review of security measures, with the state reserving the authority to require additional security steps or take any needed enforcement action.
Development of an agreement follows state officials' assessment of areas of risk after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The labor and environmental activists say the agreement is being crafted by chemical company executives relying on guidelines the industry uses to police itself, and is being developed without public comment or input from chemical plant workers.
In a letter to Codey, they called on the acting governor to direct the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the Department of Environmental Protection not to sign any agreement "that would use this industry's own inadequate security codes as the basis for policy to prevent toxic disasters."
Late Thursday afternoon, Codey's office issued a statement saying, "We will continue to seek input from the department as well as interested parties as we move forward."
At a Statehouse news conference, Rick Engler, director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, faulted the lack of public or worker involvement regarding the agreement. Engler said there is no way to verify what is being done for the public or emergency responders.
"We have 400 facilities scattered across our state which can cause catastrophic risks to workers and communities or can pose serious environmental harm. We need to make sure the safety of these facilities is the best it can be, as well as the appropriate security precautions are taken," he said.
DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the environmental groups and unions have raised relevant points.
The agreement has not been put into effect, in part because the state is looking at how it can increase public participation and provide a more significant role to labor, Campbell said.
Hal Bozarth, executive director of Chemistry Council of New Jersey, an industry trade group, said Engler and the others were using the guise of security to press an environmental agenda.
Bozarth defended chemical industry's record on security and said the activists were also trying to advance provisions of U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine's unsuccessful federal legislation to regulate security at chemical plants. Corzine, D-N.J., is now running for New Jersey governor.