WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled SAFE Port Act: Securing Our Nation's Critical Infrastructure.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, 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.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
STATEMENT OF SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON,
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION
HEARING ON SAFE PORT ACT REAUTHORIZATON: SECURING OUR NATION’S
JULY 21, 2010
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing on port security, a critical element of our nation’s national security efforts.
It has been almost four years since this Committee passed port security legislation, which became the SAFE Port Act of 2006. As many of the provisions in that bill begin to expire, I look forward to working with the Chairman and the other members to reauthorize this important legislation.
The maritime transportation system in the United States is a vital asset to the nation’s economy, employing more than 13 million workers. The cargo that passes through this country’s ports and waterways contributes approximately three-quarters of a trillion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product.
In my home state of Texas, the Port of Houston continues to rank first in the country in U.S. imports, first in foreign waterborne tonnage, and is home to one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes, as well as the U.S. Strategic Petroleum reserve.
The Houston shipping channel businesses account for almost 800,000 jobs and have an economic impact of close to $120 billion.
Clearly, our nation’s economy and the flow of commerce can be affected significantly by an unforeseen event, which I am concerned we are not adequately prepared. A terrorist incident at a major U.S. port could cause a devastating loss of life and deliver a huge blow to our economy.
For example, the Brookings Institution estimated that a detonated weapon of mass destruction (WMD) at an American port could cost $1 trillion to the national economy.
And so, it is the job of the Department of Homeland Security, with assistance from other entities within the Administration, as well as Congress, State and Local governments and industry stakeholders, to help put systems in place to prevent these devastating types of events from occurring and disrupting the delicate equilibrium of the flow of commerce and the sanctity of our way of life.
Therefore, I am particularly interested to hear what assessment our witnesses will provide of the state of our nation’s maritime security. In addition, I hope that our witnesses will elaborate on innovative ideas to help better secure our nation’s ports. I am especially interested in ways in which government agencies can work seamlessly with each other, work cooperatively with the private sector, and most importantly, work efficiently, so as not to expend precious financial resources on ineffective projects. Risk management is fundamental to securing our nation’s transportation systems.
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on these very important issues.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Alan BersinCommissioner, U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionU.S. Department of Homeland Security
Admiral Robert J. PappCommandant, U.S. Coast GuardU.S. Department of Homeland Security
Mr. Stephen L. CaldwellDirector, Homeland Security and Justice IssuesU.S. Government and Accountability Office