US chemical, refining, ag sectors warn on security bill

28 September 2009 22:15  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US chemical, refining, mining and agricultural sectors on Monday warned Congress that pending legislation to toughen antiterrorism security rules for production sites could disrupt industries without improving safety.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the National Mining Association (NMA) and The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) were among 26 major trade and business associations that urged Congress to avoid broad new security requirements that could raise costs and disrupt production in a variety of industries.

The ad hoc group asked Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California), who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to withdraw or amend three key provisions in the new “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009”, HR-2868, that is now pending before his committee.

The group charged that the bill’s provision allowing individual state and local governments to enact site security requirements more stringent than federal law “would greatly burden industry with no concomitant benefits for public safety”.

Under the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) being enforced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal regulations for site security pre-empt any related state requirements that conflict with or frustrate federal enforcement.

In a letter to Waxman, the API and other industry trade groups argued that chemical facility security should be regulated solely by the federal government, just as federal laws governing nuclear power, aviation and port security are the exclusive responsibility of national agencies.

If state and even local governments are allowed to impose their own, more stringent site security rules, said the letter, “businesses will be subject to a patchwork of differing and possibly conflicting regulations” that also would divert scarce resources.

The industry and business groups also cautioned that the bill’s provision for private right of action - allowing individual citizens to file suit to force security measures on specific plant sites - could even undermine security for chemical plants.

The letter said that the groups were "concerned that broad discovery rights in federal lawsuits could lead to public disclosure of classified or highly-sensitive information that could assist terrorists”.

Lastly, the producers argued against the bill’s provision giving the DHS authority to impose inherently safer technologies (IST) on a specific chemical facility, which would be done in the interest of making a facility less attractive to terrorists as a potential weapon of mass destruction.

But the API and others contend that giving the department authority to implement manufacturing process changes - for example, by ordering adjustments in feedstocks, inventories, catalysts or end products - “is unnecessary and potentially very disruptive to many chemical facilities”.

Fertilizer sector officials warned that draconian security mandates could jeopardise the availability of low-cost pesticides and plant nutrients and thereby disrupt national food supplies.

The chemical, refining and other process industry groups were joined in the letter by such major business interests as the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Energy and Commerce panel’s Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment will hold a hearing on HR-2868 on Thursday this week.

The bill was approved in June this year by the House Homeland Security Committee.

In addition to the House Energy and Commerce deliberations, the bill also faces unscheduled hearings in the US Senate.

Final congressional action on legislation to renew or replace CFATS - which technically expires on Wednesday this week - is not likely before the first half of next year. Congress is expected to soon approve a DHS spending bill that contains a one-year extension of the current site security law.

To discuss issues facing the chemicals industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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