After the 9/11 attacks, both Republicans and Democrats reacted with horror at the prospect of a terrorist chemical attack. Then-Senator Jon Corzine sponsored a bill to require tough security measures at vulnerable chemical plants, and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works passed it by a vote of 19 to 1. But lobbyists for the chemical industry went to work and persuaded Republicans to kill the bill, which they did.
The Republican position since then is that we can rely on voluntary action by the chemical industry. Newspaper exposés have shown that many plants have remained appallingly vulnerable. Domestic security experts have shouted from the rooftops that something has to be done. Nothing has.
Last week, finally, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared before the American Chemistry Council to gently nudge it out of its inaction. He expressed his desire for legislation but remained vague on the details. The closest Chertoff came to a rousing call for action was his observation that "we are four years after 9/11, and the time to wait on voluntariness [sic] as the sole solution, I think, has begun to pass." Well, let's not rush ourselves. You may wonder where all the so-called post-9/11 conservatives are on this issue. You know, the hawks who remind us every day that we're still at war and insist that September 11 "changed everything." I think the answer is that they're so wedded to the image of Bush as decisive war leader who prioritizes terrorism above all that they simply refuse to consider any evidence to the contrary.
The answer to Chertoff's sudden motivation seems pretty clear to me-- impending elections. It shouldn't surprise anyone at this point that the sole motivation Bush Republicans act on is fear of losing power.