Coal industry wants homeland security exemption

October 31, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

Sometimes little things I see in our newspaper catch my attention, and take me off in unexpected directions. Take today, for instance … There was a little display advertisement headlined, “Department of Homeland Security to Hold Public Meeting on Ammonium Nitrate Proposed Rule.” The ad continued:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is holding a public meeting in Charleston, West Virginia, on the proposed rule for the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program. The purpose of the rule is to prevent the use of ammonium nitrate in an act of terrorism by regulating the chemical’s sale and transfer.

The meeting will provide the public with the opportunity to be briefed on the basics of the proposed rule and enable DHS to consult with the public and other interested parties on the proposed rule.

What’s this all about? Well, it turns out that back in 2008, Congress passed appropriations language that requires the Department of Homeland Security to:

… Regulate the sale and transfer of ammonium nitrate by an ammonium nitrate facility … to prevent the misappropriation or use of ammonium nitrate in an act of terrorism.

Well, Homeland Security officials didn’t get around to proposing this rule until August 2011, and now they’re accepting comments on the proposal. As an Associated Press account explained:

More than 15 years after a fertilizer bomb was used to blow up a government building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, the federal government is proposing to regulate the sale and transfer of the chemical ammonium nitrate.

The proposal comes nearly four years after Congress gave the Homeland Security Department the authority to develop a program to regulate the compound.

Ammonium nitrate is one of the most common farm fertilizers in the world, and instructions for turning it into a bomb are available on the Internet. Its deadly potential was once again realized on July 22, when a Norwegian man allegedly blew up a government building in his country, killing eight people with a bomb that investigators believe was made with ammonium nitrate.

The story continued:

As it’s proposed, the “Ammonium Nitrate Security Program” would require those who purchase, sell or transfer at least 25 pounds of the chemical in the U.S. to register with the government so that they may be screened against U.S. terror watch lists … The Homeland Security Department would give registration numbers to those who are approved to buy, sell or transfer ammonium nitrate. The registrants would also be required to keep records and report the theft or loss of the chemical within 24 hours of discovering it missing.

So I wondered if somehow the government’s “War on Terror” had now become connected to the Obama administration’s “War on Coal,” and if mining lobbyists had objected to this new regulatory proposal, given the large amounts of ammonium nitrate uses for explosives at mountaintop removal and other mining operations. And sure enough, the National Mining Association has already submitted this comment letter, opposing the inclusion of coal and other types of mining in this Homeland Security rule.

Tawny A. Bridgeford, the association’s deputy general counsel, said that the mining industry believes that the sale, purchasing and handling of this material by the mining industry is already adequately regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:

NMA supports regulatory programs that would better secure the United States against terrorist attacks. However, DHS should not pursue an ammonium nitrate security program that duplicates existing BATF regulations on ammonium nitrate used solely in the production of explosives. DHS should exercise its discretion to exempt from the regulatory program “a person producing, selling, or purchasing ammonium nitrate exclusively for use in the production of explosives under license or permit issued under chapter 40 of Title 18.” 6 U.S.C. § 488a(f). This is particularly important given that DHS has not properly analyzed the burden on the mining industry under its proposed rule. DHS should have a more accurate accounting for the costs of its regulatory program before finalizing its proposed rule.

The Homeland Security meeting here in Charleston is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow on Nov. 3 (Thursday) at the Ramada Charleston Downtown over on Kanawha Boulevard.

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