WASHINGTON - Defying President Bush's threatened veto, the House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill making the Coast Guard enforce security zones around eight liquefied natural gas terminals and any arriving tankers - all potential terrorism targets.
The White House has complained that the requirement would divert the Coast Guard from other high-priority missions and provide an "unwarranted subsidy" for LNG owners.
The 395-to-7 vote margin on the $8.4 billion Coast Guard bill was well beyond the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto. Seven Republicans voted against the measure.
The Senate is considering its own version of the bill.
Democrats scoffed at the White House's objections, saying President Bush is ignoring the huge security threat posed by LNG sites on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
"I am simply appalled that this administration would refer to protecting our families as an unwarranted and unnecessary subsidy," said Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who chairs the House Transportation subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard.
Under the bill, security plans for LNG sites cannot be approved unless the Coast Guard determines there are adequate agency, state, and local government resources to handle security risks, Cummings said.
A dozen more LNG terminals are being planned due to increased demand for natural gas and limited domestic supplies.
Representative John Mica, Republican of Florida, said the LNG security provision could hamper the flow of much-needed natural gas as energy prices and demand rise.
The Government Accountability Office says a terrorism attack on an LNG tanker arriving at a terminal could ignite an explosion and fire so fierce that people a mile away would be burned. But GAO auditors also say the Coast Guard is already stretched too thin to meet its own standards for protecting arriving LNG tankers.
The bill also sets stricter crime-reporting requirements for cruise ships and requires double hulls around fuel tanks on large cargo ships to prevent catastrophic oil spills.