US House panel approves new site security bill

21 October 2009 22:52  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A US House committee on Wednesday approved new and tougher requirements for anti-terrorism security at the nation’s chemical plants, drawing criticism from industry officials who warned that the bill would undermine production.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved HR-2868, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009, with a provision that would allow federal regulators to order changes in chemical plant feedstocks, processes or end products in order to reduce off-site consequences of a terrorist attack.

That provision, known as an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate, would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to shut down a plant whose operators refuse to implement ordered changes in processes or on-site substances.

Joe Acker, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that if enacted by the full Congress, the committee’s IST requirement would “have significant impact on the chemical industry and the industries and consumers that are served by the industry”.

Acker warned that some of the chemicals that the department might want to see eliminated or greatly reduced in production facility inventories “are the same ones used, for example, as active ingredients in everyday pharmaceuticals and health care products”.

He said that elimination or significant reduction of some feedstocks or process chemicals “may cause shortages or elimination of common consumer products or treatments for patients with serious medical conditions” and could increase US dependence on foreign-sourced intermediate chemicals and end-user products.

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), also was critical of the committee’s insistence on an IST mandate.

“Our members are concerned that providing government with authority to direct process changes or product substitutions could result in making critical products unavailable throughout our economy, with potentially significant impact on our companies and customers,” Dooley said.

However, both the ACC and SOCMA voiced approval for the committee’s decision to significantly amend the bill's private right of action provision.

In an earlier version of the legislation, private citizens would have been granted authority to file suit against individual chemical facilities or the DHS in order to force anti-terrorism regulatory action.

But in the measure approved on Wednesday, that private right of action provision was limited to citizen suits against the department, meaning that individuals could not take court action directly against specific companies or production sites.

Dooley said he hoped to work with Congress as the chemical facility anti-terrorism measure continues to advance, suggesting that he still hopes to get the IST mandate eliminated.

Officials in the Obama administration also have expressed opposition to the bill's IST mandate.

The bill approved on Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee differs somewhat from the version of HR-2868 passed by the House Homeland Security Committee in June. The Homeland Security Committee’s version also includes an IST mandate and the broader private right of action provision.

The two House versions will have to be reconciled before the full House can vote on the measure, which is not likely for several weeks at least.

In addition, the US Senate has yet to begin work on its version of a new chemical facility anti-terrorism statute. Democrat leadership in the Senate Homeland Security Committee have said they want an IST mandate and some sort of private right of action authority in their bill.

Final voting action on new legislation to replace the existing three-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is not expected this year.

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to a spending bill for DHS that contained a one-year extension of the existing regulations, which technically had expired on 1 October.

Congress is likely to take up further action on replacing the existing anti-terrorism security requirements in the first half of next year.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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