Key House panel passes safer technology mandate

06 March 2008 21:39  [Source: ICIS news]

Homeland security bill includes IST mandateWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A key House panel approved chemical facility anti-terrorism legislation on Thursday that includes a controversial inherently safer technology (IST) reporting requirement.

The House Committee on Homeland Security approved the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008” with a largely party-line vote of 15-7. The measure now faces hearings and possible changes in other House committees.

It would give  federal security officials authority to order feedstock, process and product changes at as many as 8,000 US chemical facilities considered at high risk for terrorist attack

The bill is designed to replace and expand the existing chemical facility antiterrorism statute, which will expire in October 2009.

The pending measure, however, would expand the law’s scope to include some 3,000 US water and wastewater treatment facilities, and it requires a role for plant workers and union representatives in drawing up and implementing site security measures. 

In addition, the new legislation would allow individual states to implement chemical facility security requirements that exceed federal rules if those local laws do not directly conflict with national standards.

In its most controversial element, the bill would require that high-risk chemical facilities report how their plants might be made more secure through the use of inherently safer technologies (IST), such as less toxic feedstocks, lower process temperatures and pressures or alternative products.

If the enforcing agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), were to determine that feedstock, process or product changes are necessary at a given site to reduce the potential impact of a terrorist attack on surrounding communities, the facility would be ordered to implement those alterations or face a court-ordered shutdown.

“We remain concerned about the bill’s mandate for process changes,” said Marty Durbin, director of federal affairs for the American Chemistry Council (ACC).  “We’re pleased that the committee’s bill will make site security requirements permanent and keep them on a risk-based and performance-based basis, but we are concerned about the mandate.”

Maurice McBride, associate general counsel for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said the bill is “overreaching where it deals with the IST provisions”.

McBride also argued that the bill is flawed because it seeks to impose environmental controls - the inherently safer technology mandate - on industry as a security measure.  That tactic, he said, may make passage of the bill difficult as it makes its way through other House committees.

Joe Acker, president of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), said his trade group is “stridently opposed to the merits of mandating inherently safer technology under the guise of site security”.

Acker said it is “inappropriate for Congress to pretend that mandating ‘security’ IST will provide a security blanket with negligible consequences” to the chemical industry.

Environmental activist group Greenpeace hailed the committee action, saying the bill’s mandate for safer technologies “could save thousands of lives” by reducing the consequences of a terrorist attack on a chemical plant.

However, Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind argued that the committee-approved bill is too weak, in part because it does not provide for public access to information about which plant sites are high risk facilities and the extent of their IST compliance.

The Homeland Security Department has estimated that 5,000-8,000 facilities among approximately 40,000 US chemical production, use or storage facilities will likely be categorised as high risk and therefore subject to the process control mandate.

By: Joe Kamalick
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