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'Weaponizable' Gas for Your Backyard Barbecue

In the case of propane, the association asked the department not to include the gas in the rule because it is "non-weaponizable." It has already been exempted from similar security requirements by the Environmental Protection Agency for accidental releases of chemicals, the trade group said.

The cost and benefits of many of the department's previous rules have been hard to assess since it is almost impossible to predict an attack, or whether one will ever occur, said Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The center supports free-market approaches and limited government.

Predicting the cost of the new rule is particularly difficult, because it's hard to gauge which risk level facilities will fall into. That will determine how much companies will have to spend.

It took five years to issue the chemical facility rule, even with prodding from Congress and public pressure. The department said its intent was "to work aggressively with chemical facilities presenting the very highest security risks first."

Critics said parts of the chemical industry are comfortable because it allows high-risk facilities to figure out how to meet a particular standard, rather than having the government tell them exactly what to do.

Groups critical of the rule wanted the government to mandate that companies use less-risky chemicals, instead of emphasizing security measures. They also wanted clear assurances that the federal government wouldn't overrule New Jersey and other states that already have chemical security rules in place.

"It provides cover to the chemical industry," said Clayton Northouse, information policy analyst with OMB Watch, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors the regulatory process and openness in government. "It's woefully inadequate."

OMB Watch thinks more information about the program should be disclosed to the public and even more companies should be included in the initial screening.

The propane industry argues that it shouldn't be on the list at all. Squair said the department has dramatically undercounted the number of propane facilities that sell or store at least 7,500 pounds of the gas. (By comparison, the standard tank attached to your backyard grill is 20 pounds, containing about 4.3 gallons of gas weighing 17 pounds when full.)

Large retailers in the propane industry, such as AmeriGas Partners in Valley Forge, Pa., and Ferrellgas Partners in Overland Park, Kan., would have to use the Top Screen tool. So too, Squair said, would small businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, campgrounds, farms and homeowners who might have two big tanks in the backyard to heat a large house and a pool with a Jacuzzi.

Homeland Security regulators were nonplussed about pleadings for leniency. The government's position is that the need for a comprehensive picture of what facilities are at risk outweighs some industries' unhappiness, one official said.

Department spokesman Russ Knocke declined to comment.

Cindy Skrzycki is a regulatory columnist for Bloomberg News. Her e-mail address is cskrcyzki@bloomberg.net


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