US chemical group bids to block inherently safer mandate

07 July 2010 23:17  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--The leader of a major US specialty chemicals trade group on Wednesday voiced strong opposition to a bid by Congress to impose an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate on producers, warning that it would kill jobs and force more manufacturing overseas.

Lawrence Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), told a press conference that his trade group and member companies would fight to defeat congressional consideration of IST as part of pending revisions to anti-terrorism security regulations for chemical facilities.

Those regulations, formally known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), are set to expire at the end of September this year unless extended as is by Congress or replaced with new law.

The US House of Representatives passed a comprehensive new chemical facility security bill late last year, a measure that included an IST mandate.

That mandate would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to force changes in a given chemical facility’s feedstocks, processes or end product if deemed necessary to thwart a potential terrorist attack.

The US Senate has yet to consider parallel legislation, although Sloan said a Senate bill similar to the House-approved measure may be introduced within a week or two.

Like the House bill, the anticipated Senate measure - likely to be sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) - is expected to include an IST mandate.

“That would be unwise, reckless and counterproductive to chemical facility security standards,” Sloan told reporters at the eighth annual chemical sector security summit.

He said that a federally imposed inherently safer technology requirement might reduce risk at one facility, only to transfer that hazard to another, less secure site.

Sloan also said that because there is no accepted definition of exactly what inherently safer technology is, and no agreed methodology on which chemical processes are inherently safer, such a mandate would run counter to the government’s effort to establish clear standards for site security.

“It would assure failure, weaken innovation in this industry and drive production and jobs overseas,” Sloan said.

He said SOCMA would strongly oppose efforts to inject IST as a site security component, and that the trade group would throw its support and lobbying efforts to a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine) that would simply extend the existing CFATS system for five years.

Other chemical industry trade groups also oppose an IST mandate as a security measure and have been working against it.

The fate of inherently safer technology in US chemical facility security law is likely to be decided within months, because little time remains in the congressional legislative calendar.

Congress is in recess this week and soon will begin its month-long August recess. By September all members of the House and one-third of senators will be increasingly focused on their campaigns for re-election in the 2 November US national elections.

Numerous polls indicate that Republicans are expected to win back multiple seats in the House and perhaps several in the Senate in this mid-term election. 

As such, the political profile of the new Congress that will convene in January 2011 is likely to be different from the current legislature.

That suggests to Sloan that the IST threat to chemical site security and producers could be nullified - if it is not passed by the current Congress.

“Once we get through the mid-term elections, IST’s chances are greatly diminished,” Sloan said.

Earlier on Wednesday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told executives attending the security summit that she supports an IST mandate and expects Congress to include it in a new chemical facility security statute.

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

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