US chem officials increasingly concerned on security rules

07 July 2010 00:15  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--US chemical industry officials are increasingly concerned about White House and congressional moves to tighten federal anti-terrorism security rules for production sites, a top sector official said on Tuesday.

Lawrence Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA), said that the more than 400 chemical industry officials gathering for the eighth annual chemical security summit meeting here are more engaged than in earlier conferences because a decision on the federal site security mandate is imminent.

Congress must decide before the end of September on whether to re-write the four-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) or simply extend those existing rules for another year or more.

Legislation approved by the US House of Representatives late last year would broaden and toughen the existing regulations, chiefly by giving federal enforcement officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to dictate feedstock, process or even end-product changes at chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk for terrorist attack.

However, US Senate proponents of tougher chemical facility antiterrorism requirements have yet to introduce parallel legislation, and the congressional calendar is growing short.

Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has long promised to introduce legislation to toughen anti-terrorism rules for chemical facilities, but he has yet to do so.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the committee, has introduced a bill to extend the existing CFATS regulations for five years.

“Senator Collins indicated that she has strong bipartisan support for her bill,” Sloan said on the sidelines of the chemical security summit.

“She also indicated that her bill might go to committee mark-up by the middle of this month,” he added. 

In a committee mark-up session, a bill is amended and either approved by the panel’s members for consideration by the full Senate or held back for further work and perhaps defeat by inaction.

But even if Collins’s bill is approved by the Homeland Security Committee, Sloan said there is too little time left in the congressional calendar for even consideration of a five-year extension of current rules.

“I don’t think that with all that’s happening in Congress - with the BP spill in the Gulf, demands for immigration reform, continuing work on some sort of cap-and-trade climate bill and other matters - that the Senate will be able to get anything done on new requirements or the Collins bill,” Sloan said.

He noted that Congress is not in session this week and soon will break again for its month-long August recess. By September, members of Congress will be almost wholly focused on campaigning for re-election in the 2 November national vote, and little substantive congressional action is expected in that period.  

“My guess is that the existing rules will just be extended for another year,” he added.

There is a provision in the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget that would simply extend the existing CFATS to the end of September next year.

Industry security executives meeting here might get an update on the administration’s plans on Wednesday when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is to deliver the keynote speech.

Cosponsored by DHS, SOCMA and other industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, the security conference runs through Thursday.

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