Wash. Monthly: Fear Cheney’s Son in Law

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February 14, 2007 12:48 p.m.
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Last week, the GAO singled out Philip Perry, chief counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, as an obstacle to effective oversight of the critical department. In the hot-off-the-presses Washington Monthly (full disclosure: I’m a contributor), Art Levine profiles Perry — who just happens to be the son-in-law of VP Dick Cheney — and his penchant for extreme friendliness to the chemical industry at the expense of homeland security:

By the summer of 2006, as various bills competed for attention, Perry’s services were in great demand. “Industry went back to the well,” says one DHS official.

Perry came through in a characteristically concealed manner. When it became clear that Collins-Lieberman was going nowhere, Perry went searching for a new vehicle to get more industry-friendly results. He would find it in a DHS appropriations bill in the Senate, to which had been attached an obscure amendment giving the DHS short-term regulatory authority over chemical security. Perry reworked the language and helped to get it added to the spending bill in a conference committee. Under the new amendment, the DHS would have nominal authority to regulate the chemical industry but also have its hands tied where required. For example, the DHS would be barred from requiring any specific security measures, and citizens would be prohibited from suing to enforce the law. Best of all for industry, while the bill didn’t mention giving the DHS preemption authority, it didn’t bar it, either, leaving a modicum of wiggle room on the subject. In other words, if Perry was sufficiently brazen, he could claim for the DHS the power to nullify the chemical regulations in New Jersey.

He was sufficiently brazen. When the DHS finally unveiled its proposed regulations in late December of last year, Hill staffers noticed that the department had effectively granted itself the power to set aside state laws, even though the new federal law didn’t expressly grant such authority. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were livid. “In order to please their cronies in the chemical industry, the Bush administration is willing to put the health and safety of millions of people at risk,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Senator Collins, for her part, released a statement accusing the DHS of attempting to create regulatory powers “out of whole cloth.” It was indeed curious that Perry, who had been so cautious about allowing the EPA to claim regulatory authority in the Clean Air Act, should now be so bold in interpreting the language in an appropriations rider. Or perhaps it wasn’t so curious at all.

If that wasn’t enough, Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations has an in-depth report on how vulnerable the U.S. remains to a terrorist attack on a chemical plant:

Unbelievably, it has taken five years for the federal government to compile a prioritized list of the most likely targets in the country. Congress demanded such a list when it passed the Department of Homeland Security Act of 2002, but the new department struggled to meet this mandate. This wasn’t, however, rocket science. While attacks on the electric grid, oil and gas facilities, major ports, and the food-supply system have the potential to create the greatest cascading economic effects, it is chemical facilities near urban population centers that have the potential to inflict the greatest casualties. Placing them at the top of the list of priorities is obvious.

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