WASHINGTON - New federal rules giving the Bush administration authority for the first time to regulate and even shut down chemical plants will not overrule stricter state rules already in place, according to a letter sent Sunday to lawmakers by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
The letter was provided to The Associated Press by a congressional official on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been made public.
Draft regulations issued last December had provoked concern among activists and lawmakers - Republicans as well as Democrats - because they would have allowed the federal rules to override state rules even when the latter were more stringent.
The issue was of particular concern in New Jersey, which is the most densely populated state and has a high concentration of chemical facilities.
In recent days both chambers of Congress, responding to efforts by New Jersey Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, had enacted measures allowing states to enforce their own rules if they chose.
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