Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on SAFE Port Act Reauthorization: Securing Our Nation's Critical Infrastructure

July 21, 2010

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Every day, terrorists are hard at work hatching new plans to do Americans harm. As the former Chairman, and a current member of the Intelligence Committee, I have a unique appreciation for the threats we face, and I can tell you: the threats are real, and they are ever-evolving. 

In the last year alone, we’ve seen one terrorist try to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day. We’ve seen another try to turn his SUV into a bomb near Times Square. No matter how many plots we disrupt, more will replace them. 

As history has shown us, one of the greatest security challenges we face is securing our free and open transportation system. Although our aviation security system is the most visible part of our nation’s homeland security system, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working to secure all aspects of our transportation infrastructure. 

Today, we will discuss the huge challenge we have in making our ports more secure. The very size, location, and constant movement at ports make them vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack. If terrorists were to shut down a major port, the economic disruption to our economy would be incalculable. 

Maritime security is more than just protecting our ports from attack. It is protecting our ships – both military and commercial, preventing attacks on our communities, and keeping extremely hazardous materials from being used as weapons.

For example, small vessels can carry explosives as they did in the 2000 U.S.S. Cole attack or smuggle terrorists as they did in Mumbai, India in 2008. And preventing terrorists from using our maritime transportation system to smuggle people or weapons into the country is vitally important to our economic and national security.

In addition, chemical plants line the great rivers of our country and are enormously dependent on inland ports. Many people may not know this, but West Virginia is home to the Huntington Tri-State Port, the largest in-land port in the United States, with over 77 million tons of cargo moving through the port annually; 30 percent of which is petroleum and chemical products. If terrorists attacked a chemical plant adjacent to the Port of Huntington, the resulting toxic plume would be devastating.

Make no mistake: the challenges before us are great.

Two of the witnesses today will discuss the enormously difficult task of balancing the need to protect our maritime transportation system with the efficient flow of commerce. For example, in 2007, Congress required 100 percent scanning of all ocean borne cargo containers entering the United States. Last year, the Secretary of Homeland Security told this Committee that she doubted that DHS could meet that challenge.

If we cannot meet this mandate, then I believe we need to find a different way to address this threat. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what we should do to make sure foreign cargo is safe to enter this country.

As I have discussed with Admiral Papp, the Coast Guard has too few resources to meet all its missions – and that is unacceptable. I believe the Coast Guard needs more resources, and more support, to do its job. Period.

Just as the Committee has jurisdiction over maritime issues, we also have a primary role in making sure our maritime sector is secure. In the coming days, I will introduce legislation that builds on provisions in the Security and Accountability for Every Port of 2006, or SAFE Port Act, and the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA), bills this Committee passed to strengthen maritime security. The SAFE Port Act of 2006 furthered the preparedness of our ports by requiring national and regional security plans and mandating Coast Guard approved incident response plans for all vessels, ports, and facilities on or adjacent to waterways that are engaged in maritime transportation.

The bill I will introduce will:

  • Focus resources on critical areas, including small vessel security, especially hazardous cargo, and the security of the global supply chain.
  • Reauthorize the port security grant program to ensure that adequate resources exist to secure our port facilities.
  • And, most importantly, seek to address key security gaps and lessons learned in the past four years. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today to evaluate the current state of port security; reflect on the implementation of previous port security bills; and discuss how we can improve going forward, as my legislation seeks to do. Thank you, everyone, for your time today. I look forward to hearing from you.