Thursday, February 26, 2009

Problems with Secrecy

One of the problems that a number of advocacy groups have been complaining about since the government started talking about protecting high-risk chemical facilities from potential terrorist attacks has actually happened. According to an article on the Bayer plant in West Virginia has, at least temporarily, stopped the Chemical Safety Board from discussing their investigation of an August 2008 explosion at that facility by invoking the information security requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). These advocacy groups have warned that chemical facilities would use these security provisions to stop from disclosing information vital to residents near such facilities. While it may seem odd that a facility in West Virginia may be covered by the provisions of the MTSA, they do apparently ship or receive chemicals by river barge, so they must be on a navigable waterway. That certainly qualifies them for MTSA coverage. The CSB has not yet said that they will not discuss their investigation. At this point, in an abundance of caution, they have postponed their standard review of the progress of their investigation with the local community. They are looking into the Bayer claims of ‘national security’ protection of the information included the CSB investigation with their lawyers and are probably discussing the matter with the Coast Guard (the action agency for the MTSA) and DHS. I do not know what information that the CSB might be intending to disclose, nor am I familiar enough with the information security requirements of the MTSA, to offer an opinion on the validity of the Bayer claims. I do not believe that if the claims had been made under the CFATS CVI rules that they would have had any legitimacy unless the CSB were going to specifically discuss security rules. I hope that Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration side with the Chemical Safety Board and allow the CSB to share their information with the affected community of Charleston, WV. To stop any potential for confusion with CVI, Congress should in their reauthorization of CFATS specifically include provisions that information provided to the CSB in their investigation of an accident at a high-risk chemical facility should be exempted from the public disclosure provisions of the CVI rules.

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