New US site security bill unlikely to be finished this year

30 June 2009 17:34  [Source: ICIS news]

Congress unlikely to finish security bill this yearBALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--Existing US rules for antiterrorism security at chemical plants will be extended for another year because Congress is not likely to complete new legislation in time, key congressional officials said on Tuesday.

Holly Idelson, majority counsel at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told a chemicals sector audience that “it is unrealistic to expect, and it is not likely that we will have a permanent reauthorisation bill in place by the end of September”.

The existing regulatory programme, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), will expire at the end of the US government’s 2009 fiscal year on 30 September.

When the legislative language authorising CFATS was passed in 2006 as part of the fiscal year appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it included a three-year sunset provision.

The sunset provision was included as a compromise to some in Congress who were not happy with the chemical facility antiterrorism provisions and wanted to ensure that the Senate and House would have a near-term opportunity to revisit the law.

However, with 2009 already half gone and the 30 September expiration deadline only three months off, Congress has barely begun consideration of replacement legislation.

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a controversial new CFATS bill last week (23 June), but the House Energy and Commerce Committee also has jurisdiction and has yet to hold hearings.

In addition, the Senate is still some weeks away from introducing its own bill to replace the existing statute underlying CFATS.

“Things are moving at a slower pace in the Senate,” said Idelson, noting that the Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), “wants to work with the Obama administration as it moves more people into key positions at DHS”.

The White House has endorsed a one-year extension of the current CFATS regulation, and language providing for that extension already is in the fiscal year 2010 Homeland Security Department appropriations bill, due to be passed before the end of September.

Idelson said that the one-year extension is welcomed “because the last thing we want is for the authority for CFATS to lapse and put the continuity of the programme at risk”.

“It is not literally impossible that Congress could complete action on the new authority before the end of September, but neither is it realistic,” Idelson said.

“Even if we had a completed bill in our committee today, it is unlikely we could make the deadline because of other hearings, the need for a House-Senate conference committee on the matter and so forth, so it is great to have that one-year extension,” she said.

The one-year extension also is welcomed by many in the US chemicals sector because they want time for the existing CFATS programme - which is more favoured by industry than the controversial House bill - to demonstrate its effectiveness. 

Many in industry wanted the existing regulatory system extended on a permanent basis or for at least a few more years, and they worried that a hasty effort by Congress to replace the regulatory structure with something new could be disruptive and costly.

But Idelson said that “we’re not looking at a longer extension, a year is enough”.

That means that action by Congress to replace the CFATS statute might well be delayed into 2010, given the high legislative load facing both the House and Senate on other issues such as health care, financial reform, energy and climate change, among others.

Idelson spoke on second day of the three-day 2009 Chemical Security Summit, which is co-sponsored by the department and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

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By: Joe Kamalick
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