OUTLOOK ’09: Tougher US chemical security rules ahead

30 December 2008 17:09  [Source: ICIS news]

US chems to face tougher securityWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US chemicals industry is certain to face tougher anti-terrorism requirements in 2009, perhaps to include first-time federal authority to dictate inherently safer technologies (IST) as part of security measures.

The existing US process industry security law, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), expires at the end of 2009 and must be renewed by the new 111th Congress that will convene in January.

The existing CFATS law was crafted by Congress when Republicans still held the majority.  Tougher requirements, championed chiefly by Democrats, were left out.

But a much stronger Democrat majority will hold sway in the next Congress, and President-elect Barack Obama is far more likely to approve a tougher chemical security mandate than President George Bush would have countenanced.

Replacement legislation is already pending in the US House and is certain to be re-introduced in 2009. 

In fact, action this year on renewing or replacing the existing site security law was purposely put off to 2009 with the expectation that Democrats would have a stronger majority in Congress and that an amenable Democrat would be in the White House.

That existing replacement legislation, HR-5577, is viewed by industry as burdensome because it expressly allows individual states to enact their own, tougher chemical security laws and because it mandates the use of inherently safer technology as a security measure.

The existing regulations, now being implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), bar state regulations that conflict with or frustrate the federal rules, and they make no provision for inherently safer technology.

HR-5577, the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008,” would give the department authority to shut down any high-risk chemical facility that refused to implement IST mandates ordered by the department, such as elimination or reduction of specific feedstocks or the use of lower temperatures and pressures in production.

Adding to the near certainty of much tougher chemical site security rules is a report issued in November 2008 by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The report, “Chemical Security 101,” argues that HR-5577 or its successor bill should include a broad mandate for use of inherently safer technologies.

The report is seen as particularly significant because CAP was founded and is headed by Jon Podesta, the former White House chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who leads the Obama transition team and is likely to have a large role in the new administration.

The CAP report says that instead of being one factor in chemical facility security - along with better fencing, cameras and guards - inherently safer technology requirements should form the core of plant site security regulations.

“Congress should establish a comprehensive chemical security programme rooted in identifying, developing and leveraging the use of safer and more secure technologies,” the report recommends.

In particular, CAP said that in revising the existing regulations Congress should “require chemical facilities to assess and use feasible alternatives that reduce the potential harm of a terrorist attack”.

The report also urges stronger monitoring of chemical facilities by federal and state officials, recommending in particular that state security agencies be allowed to set higher standards for high-risk plants than those required by federal agencies.

Other environmental groups will press hard for tougher chemical security requirements.

Rick Hind, legislative director for the national toxics campaign at Greenpeace in Washington, said that “certainly a top priority is chemical-plant site security, and our goal there is to ensure that inherently safer technology is a requirement more broadly through the chemical industry”.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups want federal officials to have authority to order changes in chemical plant operations, products or processes to make high-risk plant sites less attractive as potential terrorist targets and to minimise off-site fatalities if there is a terrorist attack.

As currently drafted, HR-5577 would require inherently safer technology requirements for plant sites deemed at highest risk for terrorist attack - about 200-300 US facilities.

But Hind said Greenpeace wants to see the IST mandate apply to any chemical facility that puts 1,000 or more local residents at risk of attack consequences, “which we think would include about 3,500 sites in the US”.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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