Washington, D.C. – In an effort to ensure the public has access to key information during local industrial accidents or emergencies like the Bayer CropScience explosion in Institute, West Virginia last year, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation that will clarify federal laws regarding the release of certain kinds of information.
“When an industrial emergency happens and threatens the lives of residents, workers and first responders, I absolutely believe the public has the right to receive important information about what it means for them and their health. Period.” Rockefeller said. “As former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have a deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of protecting information for the purposes of protecting our national security. The SSI classification should only be used to protect our homeland - it should never be used to hide wrongdoing, avoid public embarrassment, or delay the release of information to communities that need it most.”
Rockefeller’s bill makes clear that the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) classification cannot be used to withhold information that is not explicitly covered in its statutes. SSI is used by the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) when it is determined that the release of certain information to the public would impact the security of transportation.
According to recent congressional testimony from representatives of the Bayer CropScience plant regarding last year’s explosion, the company sought to classify certain information as SSI to avoid having to publicly disclose and debate about a chemical they produce. Rockefeller’s legislation makes clear that a federal agency or private company subject to homeland security regulations cannot use the SSI classification to conceal misconduct, prevent embarrassment, or delay the release of information that the public has every right to know.