White House, unions urge safer tech mandate for US plants

03 March 2010 20:02  [Source: ICIS news]

US Senate eyes tougher site security requirementsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Obama administration and labour unions on Wednesday urged Congress to toughen federal control of security at high-risk chemical facilities, including new authority to order changes in feedstocks and processes.

In Senate testimony on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under secretary Rand Beers said his department “should have the authority to require facilities posing the highest degree of risk to implement IST [inherently safer technology] methods if they demonstrably enhance overall security and are determined feasible”.

Beers also indicated that his department should have authority to issue a cease-operations order against facilities that fail to implement safer technology measures deemed necessary by his department.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs was hearing testimony on how to make permanent the short-term antiterrorism security requirements for US chemical facilities that were first enacted in 2007.

Known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), those existing site security requirements are due to expire in October this year, unless renewed or replaced by Congress.

Peter Silva, an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said his agency supports the tougher security rules sought by DHS, especially a federal mandate to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures at high-risk sites.

Silva said the Obama administration would be willing to extend the existing site security regulations for another year - to October 2011 - if necessary to work out details for an IST mandate in a new law.

Darius Sivin, a legislative representative for the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, also urged senators to give federal enforcement officials authority to impose specific security measures at chemical facilities judged to be at high risk.

Sivin said the UAW and other labour groups want new legislation that would require chemical sites to “assess methods to reduce the consequences of an attack... and allow DHS to require implementation of such methods, under specific conditions, at the highest risk facilities”.

He said that federal funding should be made available for such ordered changes.

Chemical industry officials, however, were unanimous in voicing opposition to an inherently safer technology mandate, and urged Congress to simply make the existing CFATS rules permanent or extend them for five years.

Speaking for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), Stephen Poorman warned that a federal mandate for inherently safer technologies could force elimination of legitimate products and even undermine site security.

Poorman, the environmental and security manager for Fujifilm, argued that “a mandatory implementation of so-called inherently safer technology would shift DHS focus from securing our industry against terrorism to conducting engineering and chemistry assessments, while potentially phasing out legitimate products”.

He also urged the panel to consider the economic and employment consequences of an IST mandate in site security law, saying the added regulatory burden would consume capital that chemical makers otherwise might use for expansions and hiring.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) argued that the existing CFATS rules already encourage inherently safer technology measures at regulated chemical facilities.

Speaking for the council, Dow Chemical chief security officer Timothy Scott cited DHS data indicating that the number of potentially high-risk facilities has been reduced to around 6,000 from the original 7,000, as operators work to lower their plants’ risk profiles.

“According to DHS, this reduction has been due largely to the voluntary material modifications that have lowered or even eliminated the use and storage of hazardous chemicals onsite, thus lowering their risk profile and increasing the safety to our communities,” Scott said.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) said in written testimony that the committee should reject provisions such as IST “that would undermine both security and economic development”.

“IST decisions should be left to individual sites and not mandated by DHS,” said NPRA president Charlie Drevna.

The chemical industry witnesses urged the panel to approve S-2996, a bipartisan Senate bill that would extend the existing CFATS requirements for five years and provide for employee training in security matters and plant-based security exercises.

However, Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, favours some sort of IST mandate for chemical facility security and authorisation for private citizens to file suit in federal court to force security inspections and mandates at specific plant sites.

Last year, the US House approved replacement legislation for CFATS that would give DHS greater authority to dictate security measures at high-risk facilities.

Final congressional action on a new site security law is not expected until later this year, and the White House has indicated that existing regulations could be extended to October next year if legislators fail to agree on a permanent replacement law.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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