US House passes chemical security bill, draws industry opposition

06 November 2009 22:57  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US House passed on Friday a security bill that would add tougher requirements for anti-terrorism measures at the nation's chemical plants.

By a vote of 230-193, the House 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 the 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.

The bill had drawn opposition from US trade groups.

“While IST may be a great political sound bite, it is not a panacea for security," according to a statement by Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA).

"The House is sending a clear signal that it wants to put the federal government in a position to dictate chemical practices and procedures to chemical engineers,” Drevna said.

Activists have hijacked the concept of IST to fulfil their own political agenda, he said.

“Forcing the switching of chemicals for certain processes may simply shift, and potentially increase, risk at facilities and in their surrounding communities," Drevna said.

Likewise, the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) warned about the way that the bill relies on IST.

The IST component would require distributors to conduct expensive reviews on how to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack, the NACD said in a statement.

Despite the burdensome requirement of the reviews, they would accomplish little in terms of security, the group said.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) also opposed the bill.

"If the bill passed by the House today became law, it would go beyond the current protection requirements and endanger jobs and increase the risk of our operations," the API said. "The bill would create a mandate for government-selected changes to our operations, which is not consistent with a risk-based approach."

Instead, the API supported a re-authorisation of the current federal security standards, which the group said have been successful since enacted three years ago.

The security bill will now go to the Senate for approval.

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By: Al Greenwood
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