US House eyes tougher chemical site security law

15 June 2009 23:21  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US House Democrats introduced new legislation on Monday to revise and extend antiterrorism security measures at chemical facilities, saying that an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate will improve plant and public security.

Lawmakers formally introduced HR-2868, “The Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act of 2009”, with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (Democrat-California) saying that the measure will protect plants and surrounding communities “by asking the highest risk facilities to switch to safer chemicals and processes when feasible”.

Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have authority to dictate changes in a specific chemical facility’s feedstocks, processes or even products in order to reduce the site’s vulnerability to - or the consequences of - a potential terrorist attack.

The department could force the shutdown of a facility that refused to implement any mandated safer technologies.

“By requiring the highest risk facilities to switch to safer chemicals or processes when it is economically and technologically possible to do so, this legislation will make our communities less vulnerable to a terrorist-designed Bhopal in Boston, Baton Rouge or Buffalo,” said Representative Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.

Markey was referring to the December 1984 accident at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in which a large release of methyl isocyanate killed nearly 4,000 residents and sickened thousands more. 

That incident was not, however, the result of a terrorist attack.

US chemical industry officials said earlier on Monday that the inherently safer technology mandate is not necessary, but they conceded that the legislation is likely to pass with that provision intact.

The new legislation, which would revise and extend the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that have been in force since 2006, also includes a private right of action provision, which would allow individuals to file suit in federal court against plant sites and operators or against the department to enforce the statute.

Such a private right of action provision potentially could open a floodgate of lawsuits by individuals or interest groups seeking to bar certain chemicals or processes from chemical facilities in or near population centres.

Hearings on the bill are scheduled for Tuesday in the House Homeland Security Committee and later for the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The full text of the 67-page draft bill is available from the Homeland Security Committee, along with an eight-page summary of its main provisions.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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