US chemicals warn against safer technology mandate

04 February 2009 20:15  [Source: ICIS news]

Many in US Congress want tougher plant security rulesWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A top industry group on Wednesday urged Congress to extend existing US regulations on chemical plant security without alteration, warning that changes sought by environmentalists could undermine safety and the economy.

The Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA) cautioned that efforts on Capitol Hill to include an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate in legislation to renew plant site security regulations “would give false comfort” and create unintended consequences.

Association president Joe Acker said the existing two-year-old anti-terrorism security programme being implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is robust and rigorous and should simply be made permanent by Congress without major changes.

Existing federal law governing plant site security, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), was passed by Congress in 2006 but contained a three-year sunset provision which expires at the end of September this year.

Sometime before 1 October this year Congress must act to extend or replace the existing programme, or it will expire.

The sunset provision was included in the 2006 statute because some in Congress wanted tougher, more stringent federal control over security measures at thousands of US chemical facilities that might be vulnerable to terrorist attack. The law’s automatic expiration in three years guaranteed that Congress would have to revisit the issue.

Replacement legislation introduced in Congress last year - and likely to be re-introduced within weeks - would eliminate federal pre-emption in the current CFATS, allowing individual states to implement their own anti-terrorism requirements for chemical facilities.

The bill, approved by the House Homeland Security Committee early last year, also contained a provision authorising DHS to order inherently safer technology changes at chemical plants judged to be at high risk for a possible terrorist assault.

Chemical industry officials worry that with such authority the department could force companies to alter or reduce feedstock supplies, change production processes or abandon certain chemical products.

“SOCMA is concerned that some in Washington are trying to shift Congress’s and the public’s focus from securing our industry against terrorism to banning legitimate products that improve our daily lives,” Acker said.

The campaign for an inherently safer technology mandate in plant security regulations “would give false comfort to those who advance it while not necessarily providing any additional security”, Acker said.

“Government-run product substitution or process changes under the guise of chemical security will likely create unintended consequences,” Acker said, such as increased energy use, lower quality products and increased reliance on imports as US production and jobs move offshore.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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