US Senate to put safer tech, suit provision in site security bill

30 June 2009 18:40  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--A US Senate bill to revise federal rules on antiterrorism security at chemical plants likely will include an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate and private lawsuit provisions, Senate officials said on Tuesday.

Holly Idelson, majority counsel at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told a chemicals sector audience that committee chairman Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) does want an inherently safer technology mandate in a new site security statute, and he wants some court access for those concerned about security enforcement.

She noted that Lieberman had sought an IST mandate of some sort when the existing site security measures, known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) were drawn up in 2006, “and he was disappointed that IST was not included in that bill”.

“He does think it appropriate to push on that [IST] in addition to the usual guns, guards and gates approach,” Idelson said.

Chemical industry officials worry that an IST mandate would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) power to dictate what feedstocks, processes and products they use and produce.

She said that Lieberman feels that while many US chemical facilities have done a great deal to improve their security, others have not, and an IST provision gives the option to ensure that those are brought into compliance.

Idelson said she could not say whether Lieberman would adopt the more strict and controversial IST  provision included in the House bill approved by that chamber’s homeland security panel last week.

“He feels that it is appropriate to look at IST options, but whether he would endorse the House version is open to question,” she said, speaking at the 2009 Chemical Security Summit.

The chemical site security bill passed by the House Homeland Security Committee last week also included a private right of action provision, which would allow private citizens to file suit in federal court against individual companies or the DHS to force compliance with security rules.

Lieberman’s perspective on private right of action, said Idelson, “is that we have to achieve the right balance between ensuring enforcement through court access and undue disruption to the industry”.

“But he also wants to ensure adequate accountability,” she said. “If there is too much secrecy it will make it hard to know if compliance is taking place and if it is effective, so he wants to keep an appropriate balance between the two.”

Chemical industry leaders in the conference audience voiced concern that private right of action authority would lead to a flood of litigation against chemical plants and refineries and could trigger court-ordered disclosure of critical site security information that terrorists could use to plan attacks.

Idelson also indicated that Senate work on a new chemical site security bill has barely begun and is moving slowly, suggesting that the 30 September deadline for passing a new law likely cannot be met.

Instead, Congress will extend the existing CFATS programme for another year, giving Congress time to complete work on a permanent replacement statute.

The three-day summit runs through Wednesday this week and is cosponsored by the department and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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