US senators seek 5-year extension of site security law

05 February 2010 19:04  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--A bipartisan group of US senators wants to extend the existing federal mandate over antiterrorism security measures at high-risk chemical plants for another five years, according to legislation circulated on Friday.

Led by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the two Republican and two Democrat senators said a five-year extension of the existing site security regulations would give federal enforcement officials sufficient time to fully implement the 2007 law.

The regulations, known formally as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), are due to expire in October this year unless they are renewed or extended before then.

However, many in Congress want to see the CFATS law expanded and toughened.

Last year the House of Representatives approved replacement legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater authority to dictate security measures at chemical facilities thought to be at high risk for potential terrorist attack.

Under the existing law, the department sets standards for security at some 7,000 chemical production, storage or transit sites, but owners and operators are free to chose what measures they implement to meet the federal requirements.

In the House-passed bill, the department would have authority to impose inherently safer technologies (IST) to reduce a facility’s target value or the offsite consequences of a possible terrorist attack.

With that authority, the department could order changes in a facility’s feedstocks, processes or end products - and shut down any plant that refused to implement safer technologies dictated by the agency.

In introducing her bill, S-2996, Collins warned that the House-approved legislation “would unwisely bring this [current] progress to a halt” by forcing plant operators and the department to retool site security regulatory procedures just three years into the existing law.

“The decision to implement IST should be that of the owner or operator, not a Washington bureaucrat,” Collins said. “This is neither necessary nor wise.”

But leading Senate figures in chemical security are on record as wanting to pass legislation similar to the House bill approved last year.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee where Collins is the ranking Republican, has indicated that he wants a new site security law that includes some sort of IST mandate and a provision authorizing private citizens to seek court action against facilities they feel pose a danger.

Although an independent, Lieberman is a former Democrat who still sits with the Democrat caucus in the Senate.

The House bill passed last year also included such a private right of action (PRA) provision, although it would only allow citizen enforcement suits against the department, not individual plants.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) also plans to introduce his own chemical facility security bill, and he has indicated he too wants an IST mandate in the law.

In addition, Lautenberg wants a new site security statute to allow state and local governments to impose their own chemical facility security requirements that exceed the federal mandate.

The US chemicals sector has long opposed an IST mandate and private right of action provisions, and the industry also prefers that federal law pre-empt state regulations in this area.

The Collins bill comes amid increasing speculation that the Senate might not have time in this election year to complete work on a comprehensive and controversial rewrite of the existing CFATS.

The White House has already indicated that the existing law could be extended as is for another year.

If passed by the Senate and accepted by the House - both long shots - the Collins bill would allow the existing law to be fully implemented over the next five years but also would hold open the possibility for further changes.

Joining Collins in sponsoring the five-year CFATS extension bill were Republican George Voinovich of Ohio and Democrat Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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