US feds again discourage safer tech mandate by Congress

29 June 2009 23:01  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--The US federal government already has the authority to require inherently safer technology (IST) for chemical plants at risk of terrorist attacks, a top official said on Monday, suggesting that Congress need not impose such a mandate.

Sue Armstrong, director of infrastructure security compliance at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told some 350 chemical industry officials that she could not comment on legislation pending in Congress that would impose a new mandate for inherently safer technology on the process sector.

“We’re still reviewing that bill,” Armstrong said of HR-2868, “The Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act of 2009”, which was approved by the House Homeland Security Committee on 23 June.

As approved by the committee, HR-2868 authorises the department to order changes in a given chemical facility’s storage capacities, feedstocks, production processes or even end products if the department deems it necessary to deter a possible terrorist attack.

That IST mandate is strongly opposed by the US chemicals industry. The bill faces further review in another House committee and consideration in the Senate.

There is no explicit requirement for inherently safer technology in the existing US plant site security law, known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), passed in 2006 and due to expire later this year.

“We believe CFATS already provides the degree of flexibility and a wide variety of options for how a facility will meet the standards,” Armstrong said. “And we believe that those options include elements of inherently safer technology.”

Armstrong cited testimony given by a higher-ranking DHS official at the Homeland Security Committee, and she reiterated the department’s position - namely, that DHS already has the authority to impose IST to improve site security.

Philip Reitinger, DHS deputy undersecretary, told a 16 June committee hearing that the department favours existing voluntary use by the industry of inherently safer technology “where appropriate”.

While Reitinger did not address a provision in the bill that would give DHS authority to impose IST measures on chemical facilities, he indicated instead that that the department supports the industry's own voluntary implementation of safer technologies.

The repeated declarations by Reitinger and Armstrong on the IST issue clearly position the Obama administration in opposition to many in the Democrat-majority Congress who are insisting on such a mandate.

Armstrong said that in enforcing the existing site security regulations, she wants to maintain the “trust and cooperation that has characterized industry’s work with DHS so far”.

“I think that is the best way to improve security at chemical facilities in communities where you and I live,” she said.

Armstrong spoke on the opening day of the 2009 Chemical Security Summit, which is co-sponsored by the DHS and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).  The conference continues through Wednesday.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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