US inherently safer technology mandate seen as unlikely

28 August 2009 20:55  [Source: ICIS news]

IST mandate would affect plantsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US chemical sector officials are increasingly confident that an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate will be stripped from new antiterrorism legislation pending in Congress, sources said on Friday.

New and permanent legislation designed to replace the existing but temporary Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) has been approved by a key House committee.

That measure, HR-2868, “The Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act of 2009”, does include an IST mandate, giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to order changes in a chemical plant’s storage capacities, feedstocks, processes or products if deemed necessary to deter a potential terrorist attack.

However, that provision likely will not survive in a final bill, said Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA).

Cooper noted that two top Homeland Security Department officials in the Obama administration have spoken against an IST mandate and the White House has pointedly declined to endorse the House bill.

“If they thought the pending bill was what they wanted, they would have endorsed it,” Cooper said, referring to Obama administration officials.

In addition, the Obama administration does support language in the DHS appropriation bills already approved by both the House and Senate that extends the existing regulations for another year. The existing rules would otherwise expire on 30 September.

“The fact that the administration wants to give CFATS another year of operational life we see as indication from Obama that an IST mandate is not the right type of method to ensure facility security,” Cooper said.

Scott Jensen, a spokesman at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), also said he sees strong signals from the department and the White House that they prefer the existing site security measures.

“You can just go back and look at the DHS testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee earlier this year, and it is clear that the administration sees substantial progress with the current law and they want to continue to implement the programme without major changes,” Jensen said.

The House and Senate are expected to convene a conference committee in September to shape a final DHS appropriations bill, with the one-year CFATS extension intact, and send it on to the White House for final action by the president.

With the existing regulations safely extended into late 2010 and with major legislative issues such as health care and climate change crowding the congressional calendar, action on a new chemical facility security bill is likely to be postponed to next year, Cooper said.

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