US Senate ensures one-year delay for new site security bill

13 July 2009 21:39  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senate approval of a one-year extension of existing rules for antiterrorism security at some 7,000 chemical facilities ensures that tougher site security legislation will be delayed to 2010, industry officials said on Monday. 

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

Chemical sector leaders were worried that in a rush to replace the existing law with a new, long-term statute, Congress might produce a heavy-handed law that could impose severe operational burdens on producers.

With 2009 already half gone and the 30 September expiration deadline less than three months off, Congress has barely begun consideration of replacement legislation.

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a controversial new CFATS bill on 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.

As it became increasingly apparent that Congress could not complete a CFATS renewal bill in time, the House on 24 June approved a fiscal 2010 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that included a one-year extension of the existing rules.

The US Senate passed its version of the DHS spending bill last week, also with a one-year extension for CFATS.

The House and Senate spending bills for Homeland Security must be reconciled in an anticipated conference committee session later this month, but it is expected that a final DHS spending bill will get Congressional approval - with the one-year extension - before the end of July or in early September.

“Having the House and Senate extend the existing law really does take the pressure off to pass some sort of renewal legislation this year,” said Bill Allmond, vice president at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

“We were concerned that Congress would do something irrational in their race to finish the bill by September 30th and pass something ill-considered,” Allmond added.

The one-year deadline extension does not, however, mean that Congress is any less likely to add tougher measures to a new chemical facility security bill, Allmond said.

The bill approved 23 June by the House Homeland Security Committee would allow the department to impose inherently safer technology (IST) on chemical plants in the name of security, authority that industry fears would give regulators power to dictate what feedstocks, processes and products companies use and make.

The House measure also included authority for private right of action (PRA), which would allow individuals to file suit in federal court to enforce site security.

“Those two bullets will still be coming at us,” Allmond said, referring to IST and PRA issues.

Marty Durbin, managing director for federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), agreed that the one-year extension of existing site security regulations will not in itself reduce congressional interest in toughening the law.

“But my view is that the more we can have CFATS out there and working, showing that the programme is working well and that the industry is cooperating and coordinating with the department, that will help us on all of the other issues” such as a safer technology mandate and citizen suits, Durbin said.

“There’s no question, though, that there are those in Congress who want to see changes made,” Durbin said.

Allmond noted that with the one-year delay and the now unlikely passage of renewing legislation this year, the industry will not be faced with an urgent requirement to re-tool security arrangements as early as next year.

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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