Extend an Effective Chemical Facility Law for Security, Jobs

By March 7, 2011Regulations

Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Gene Green (D-TX) have introduced H.R. 908, a bipartisan bill to extend the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) at the Department of Homeland Security to September 30, 2018. (They are now set to expire on March 18.) This is a sensible approach that allows the effective implementation of the CFATS standards, ensuring the safety of chemical plants while avoiding the unnecessary costs, complications and litigation of bills last session that sought more to restrict chemical usage than to achieve facility security goals.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a statement endorsing the bill:

First authorized in 2006, the program ensures chemical facilities throughout the U.S. have the information and technical guidance they need to safeguard their facilities from terrorists and to comply with the CFATS standards.

“Protecting our chemical plants from terrorist threats is a key national security priority, and I welcome the bipartisan sponsorship of Congressmen Murphy and Green,” said Upton. “Together with Chairman John Shimkus and the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, and our colleagues in the House, I look forward to helping advance this legislation to the President’s desk to ensure chemical plant security is maintained.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced S. 473, with bipartisan cosponsors Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Rob Portman (R-OH). In her statement introducing the bill, Collins contended that the program currently works and should be extended. From Page S1223 of The Congressional Record:

Changing this successful law, as was proposed last year by the House of Representatives in partisan legislation, would discard what is working for an unproven and burdensome plan.

We must not undermine the substantial investments of time and resources already made in CFATS implementation by both DHS and the private sector. Worse would be requiring additional expenditures with no demonstrable increase to the overall security of our Nation.

In the 111th Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives debated a provision that would alter the fundamental nature of CFATS. The provision would have required the Department to completely rework the program. It would have mandated the use of so-called “inherently safer technology,” or IST.

What is IST? It is an approach to process engineering. It is not, however, a security measure. An IST mandate may actually increase or unacceptably transfer risk to other points in the chemical process or elsewhere in the supply chain.

For example, many drinking water utilities have determined that chlorine remains their best and most effective drinking water treatment option. Their decisions were not based solely on financial considerations, but also on many other factors, such as the characteristics of the region’s climate, geography, and source water supplies, the size and location of the utility’s facilities, and the risks and benefits of chlorine use compared to the use of alternative treatment processes.

According to one water utility located in an isolated area of the northwest United States, if Congress were to force it to replace its use of gaseous chlorine with sodium hypochlorite, then the utility would have to use as much as seven times the current quantity of treatment chemicals to achieve comparable water quality results. In turn, the utility would have to arrange for many more bulk chemical deliveries, by trucks, into a watershed area. The greater quantities of chemicals and increased frequency of truck deliveries would heighten the risk of an accident resulting in a chemical spill into the watershed. In fact, the accidental release of sodium hypochlorite into the watershed would likely cause greater harm to soils, vegetation, and streams than a gaseous chlorine release in this remote area.

Currently, DHS cannot dictate specific security measures, like IST. Nor should it. The Federal Government should set performance standards, but leave it up to the private sector to decide precisely how to achieve those standards.

Forcing chemical facilities to implement IST could cost jobs at some facilities and affect the availability of many vital products.

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