US Senate inaction means new anti-terror bill put off to 2011

18 June 2010 20:45  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--It appears increasingly likely that existing US federal regulations governing anti-terrorism security at the nation’s chemical facilities will be extended without change for another year, sources indicated on Friday.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill last year that would toughen and expand the existing regulations - known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) - but Senate leaders who also advocate broader federal control of security at chemical facilities have yet to introduce parallel legislation.

Both Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) said last year that they planned to introduce legislation early in 2010 to toughen anti-terrorism requirements at chemical plants, but neither senator has done so.

Both senators said they favoured the sort of toughening provisions approved by the House, including authority for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to impose inherently safer technology (IST) changes on plant operators to require alternate feedstocks, production processes or even end products - an option broadly opposed by industry.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Lieberman has primary jurisdiction over legislation affecting the existing CFATS regulations.

With the year half gone and with little time left in the already crowded Senate calendar before the 2010 election season swings into high gear in September, if Lieberman was going to move new legislation to toughen site security law, the window of opportunity is closing fast.

Asked if Lieberman planned to introduce a site security bill, his spokeswoman would say only that “the senator is reviewing his options”.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has been pressing for committee consideration of a bipartisan bill she has authored that would simply extend the existing CFATS statute for five years.

The existing regulations were put in place in 2007 and were meant to sunset or expire in late 2009, but they were extended for one year and are due to lapse at the end of September this year unless replaced by a new and permanent statute or extended again.

Collins told a delegation of specialty chemical manufacturers this week that she had hopes that her bill - cosponsored by Democrat Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas - might be considered by the full Homeland Security Committee next week.

But Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said that her boss “does not support Senator Collins’ reauthorisation approach to CFATS” and that “her bill will not be on our mark-up next week”. A committee “mark-up” is a session in which a proposed bill is debated, amended and either advanced to the full Senate for consideration or set aside.

Phillips said that the Collins bill to extend CFATS for five years might be given consideration by the committee sometime in July.

Apparently in an effort to garner more Democrat support for her bill, Collins told the specialty chemicals group that she might have to shorten the bill’s extension timeline from five to three years.

But sources say there might not be enough time left in the congressional calendar to secure passage of just the Collins extension bill.  Even if the Senate Homeland Security Committee were to approve the Collins bill and the full Senate were to pass it, the House also would have to act on an extension measure - and abandon its already passed CFATS replacement bill.

If Congress again fails to pass either replacement legislation or a multi-year extension of CFATS, the White House budget proposal for fiscal year 2011 includes language that would extend the existing regulations for one year, to 1 October 2011. 

That budget must be approved by Congress before the end of September this year.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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