US chems urge Congress to ease security mandate

12 June 2008 20:26  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Chemical industry officials urged Congress on Thursday to avoid over-regulating US production facilities that may be at high risk for a terrorist attack and asked for a single federal security law to pre-empt multiple state regulations.


Industry representatives and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on two pending bills, HR-5577 and HR-5533, that would establish a permanent federal role in securing thousands of US chemical sites against potential terrorist attacks.


The department already is implementing its Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that were authorised by short-term legislation passed by Congress in late 2006.


Those regulations, which require chemical production and storage facilities to assess their vulnerabilities and improve security subject to the department’s approval, are set to expire in late 2009.


The principal pending bill, HR-5577, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008,” was approved by the House Homeland Security Committee in March this year, but the Energy and Commerce Committee also has jurisdiction.


Although leading US chemical sector groups generally welcome a permanent and fixed federal programme for site security, they oppose key elements of HR-5577. 


Among other things, the bill would give the department authority to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures - such as mandated changes in feedstock, process and product selections - in order to reduce the target value of a particular site.


It also would allow individual states to enact and enforce their own and more stringent antiterrorism mandates, providing they do not directly conflict with federal requirements.


Marty Durbin, managing director for federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials that his trade group opposes the bill’s inherently safer technology mandate.


“We remain concerned regarding a provision in the bill that would grant DHS authority to override chemical engineers, process safety experts and industry security officials when it comes to decisions regarding changes to chemical processes,” Durbin said.


Durbin urged Congress to allow industry to use its own ingenuity and expertise to meet site-specific security requirements that the department is to set under existing law rather than “pursue provisions that try to mandate innovation”.


He also urged the panel to provide federal pre-emption of state law on chemical site security, arguing that the chemicals sector should have the same uniform federal approach that governs US aviation, rail and port security to the exclusion of state rules.


HR-5533 is similar to HR-5577 but lacks an inherently safer technology mandate.


Neither measure is expected to clear Congress this year, according to industry sources, due to multiple committee jurisdictional issues and general preoccupation among members of Congress with the fast-approaching US national elections in November.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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