US security chief backs safer technology mandate for chems

07 July 2010 16:21  [Source: ICIS news]

IST mandate possibleBALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--The top US security official said on Wednesday she is confident that Congress will strengthen federal control over antiterrorism security at chemical plants, including a mandate for inherently safer technology (IST).

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a chemicals industry security conference that “I am confident that Congress will provide permanent authorisation for CFATS”, referring to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards programme that her department enforces.

“I am confident that CFATS will be renewed, including provisions for the use of safer technologies,” she told the eighth annual chemical industry security summit.

Napolitano and other officials in the administration of President Barack Obama support an inherently safer technology mandate for chemical site security. 

They argue that in some instances, it is the only way to ensure that a facility cannot be used as an in-place weapon of mass destruction by terrorists intent on causing massive off-site casualties.

An IST mandate is widely opposed by the US chemical industry officials who fear that it would give the department power to force changes in a facility’s feedstocks, production processes and even end products.

Napolitano said she was aware of industry opposition to a federal IST mandate and that it was a matter of debate in Congress as well.

“But we support the use of inherently safer technology where possible,” she said, referring to antiterrorism security standards at those US chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk for possible terrorist attack.

However, she added, “we need to balance the cost of safer technologies against risk, and we will continue this debate with industry and with Congress”.

In saying she was confident that Congress will renew the CFATS soon, she noted that the current statutory authorisation for that regulatory programme otherwise would expire at the end of September this year.

She said that if CFATS was allowed to expire at that time, it could disrupt US efforts to secure chemical facilities from terrorist attack.

The US House of Representatives passed legislation late last year to make the CFATS programme permanent and to give the department authority to impose inherently safer technologies on chemical facilities.

No parallel legislation has yet to be introduced in the US Senate, however, and prospects are dim for final action by Congress before the 30 September deadline - the end of the US fiscal year.

The Obama administration’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget includes language that would extend CFATS for another year, and some industry officials think that is the likely near-term outcome.

Cosponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, the security summit runs through Thursday.

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