US chems are more secure but fear ‘overkill’ from Congress

11 September 2009 14:58  [Source: ICIS news]

US producers fear the heavy hand of Congress in securityWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, US chemicals industry leaders said on Friday that the sector is far better protected but that security must remain an ever-evolving effort.

The process industry, including refining and the broad petrochemical, chemical and resins sectors, has by all accounts done much to harden its sites, making plants less attractive and less vulnerable as potential targets for terrorists seeking to cause massive downwind casualties.

But the sector also is concerned that Congress, in its zeal to ensure even tighter security, poses new risks to the chemicals industry.

Industry trade groups are quick to point out that the country’s chemical producers, processors and distributors were keenly aware of safety and security long before terrorists drove hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Even so, 9/11 changed everything.

“Was 9/11 a catalyst for change?  You’d have to be blind to say ‘no’,” said Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA).

“We as an industry have always been heavily involved in ensuring that our plants, employees and surrounding communities are protected,” he said, “but in 9/11 we learned that we needed to do more, absolutely.”

“Before 9/11 plant site security was a major consideration, but typically it was in the purview of company security officials and senior management,” Drevna said.

“But now security is in everyone’s thought processes, whether you’re in security or senior management or middle management - or if you’re the guy who changes the light bulbs,” he said.

“I’m confident that everyone is focused on security and is more cautious in looking out for things than we were eight years ago,” he said.  “This is certainly true in our industry, and I hope it is true in others.”

Scott Jensen, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), agreed that the industry is much better protected than before 9/11, noting that council member companies have spent some $8bn (€5.5bn) since 2001 on enhanced security.

Jensen credited the industry’s own Responsible Care Security Code, which was in development some six months before the 9/11 attacks, and the sector’s cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in implementing the nearly three-year-old federal Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

Those standards require some 7,000 high-risk US chemical facilities to evaluate and report on their sites’ security vulnerabilities and craft improved antiterrorism measures to satisfy department criteria and inspections.

It is congressional interest in expanding and toughening those standards that chemical industry officials see as worrisome.

Legislation pending in the US House, HR-2868, “The Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Act of 2009,” would make major adjustments, including giving the department authority to impose inherently safer technology (IST) changes in a given site’s feedstocks, processes or products.

Key provisions in the bill also would encourage individual states to implement site security requirements beyond federal standards, and it would allow individual citizens to file lawsuits under CFATS to initiate department enforcement actions, so-called private right of action suits.

Industry trade groups oppose those additional measures, citing former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff who in 2006 cautioned against smothering the chemicals sector with security requirements.  “The objective is to raise security in a way that doesn’t destroy the businesses we’re trying to protect,” Chertoff said then.

With White House support, the existing CFATS system is likely to be extended by Congress for another year before its authorising statute expires at the end of this month, with full consideration of permanent replacement legislation probably delayed to early next year.

“Congress must give this programme time to be fully implemented and evaluated before making changes,” said Matt Glaser, spokesman for the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD).

“As an industry, we are making enormous progress,” Glaser said.  “It’s time Congress noted this work, and changing a rule that is only in the early stages of implementation will be detrimental to this progress.”

He said NACD “has grave concerns about the proposals before Congress” to toughen the regulations.  He said that his association’s member companies, many of them small businesses, could be forced to shut down by the costs of IST mandates and private lawsuits.

Those proposed changes also are opposed by the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), which cautioned that IST mandates and private action lawsuits could force some US specialty chemicals and batch producers to shift capacity overseas.

“SOCMA looks forward to continuing our efforts with Congress and DHS to ensure existing industry standards remain in place,” a society spokeswoman said.

NPRA’s Drevna noted that the chemicals industry and its facilities, including its information and cyber systems, face a continuing threat.

“The opportunity for bad things to happen are developing fast, and there’s always going to be some bad guys out there trying to circumvent security, so security has to be an ever-evolving issue,” he said.

“Security goes well beyond gates, guards and guns. There’s always new techniques, new technologies to make our facilities as secure as possible,” he said.

“We’re not going to put up a 12-foot wall and say that’s the end of it. We have to be working on security all the time, and we can never get comfortable,” he added.

Drevna said he thinks the US is still recovering from 9/11.  “And I don’t know that we’ll ever recover completely - but we want to do what we can to ensure that 9/11 never happens again, in our industry or anywhere else.”

($1 = €0.69)

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