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May 07, 2013
President asked to take action in wake of Texas explosion

Members of Congress have asked President Obama to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine industrial chemical facility security. The request comes in the wake of the tragic explosion at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant.

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A letter to the president was signed by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Cal.) and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.). They are ranking members of two committees that have jurisdiction over a program established in 2007 to regulate high-risk chemical facilities.

The representatives pointed to reports that say the program is failing and that required information has not been sent by the Texas facility. As a result, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not know the site had chemicals at levels above the regulatory threshold.

The letter commends President Obama for the federal response to the explosion, which killed 15 and injured dozens more. And it asks Obama “to consider steps that can be taken in response to the explosion to reduce the security risks of chemical plants, refineries, water treatment facilities, and other facilities holding large stores of industrial chemicals.”

Waxman and Thompson expressed concern that the DHS did not take enforcement action against the West chemical plant for failing to provide the required information. They note that progress in securing the high-risk sites may be hindered by the sequester and other issues.

“Unfortunately, these circumstances converge to permit the continuation of an unacceptable risk to the people who live and work near similar facilities in communities across the nation,” Waxman and Thompson concluded.

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