US Senate panel to mull chemical site security bills in July

08 July 2010 18:51  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--The US Senate Committee on Homeland Security will consider legislation later this month to toughen federal security rules for chemical facilities, but strong disagreements about the proposals mean that existing rules will likely be extended for another year, key Capitol Hill staffers said on Thursday.

Holly Idelson, counsel for the committee and a top aide to its chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut), said that the panel will hold a mark-up session on pending chemical security legislation in the second half of this month, although final dates have not been set.

A committee mark-up session is one in which a bill is debated and amended before committee members vote to send the measure on to the full Senate - or defeat it.

Idelson declined to say whether Lieberman - a long-time advocate of tougher requirements for anti-terrorism security measures at chemical facilities - is going to introduce his own bill in time for the mark-up session.

There are only about 35 legislative work days remaining before the current 111th Congress concludes its business. The 112th US Congress will convene in January after the November elections that are expected to produce significant changes in the political makeup of the federal legislature.

Idelson said the committee mark-up session - which might be in the week of 19 July but perhaps later - will be able to consider the House-passed bill that expands the existing chemical facility security regulations.

She said the mark-up also will have for consideration a bill sponsored by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the committee, which would simply extend the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) for five years.

“We’re trying to see if we can forge a consensus,” Idelson said, in order to get a bill that would provide permanent authorisation for federal regulation of chemical facility security.

But Brandon Milhorn, Republican staff director on the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a top aide to Senator Collins, said that “the prospects for permanent authorisation for CFATS is muddied by provisions in the House bill, including IST, that would fundamentally change the character of the programme”.

The bill approved by the House late last year would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures on specific chemical facilities in order to reduce the risk of off-site casualties in a terrorist attack.

An IST mandate - which is supported by the White House and DHS - is widely opposed by the US chemicals industry, which fears that it would give federal enforcers broad powers to force changes in a facility’s feedstocks, processes and even end products.

“Senator Collins finds IST absolutely not appropriate and she will continue to fight against it,” Milhorn said. 

He said that an IST mandate would impose job-killing regulatory burdens on small and large companies in an industry whose profit margins are already thin.

Idelson said that Senator Lieberman continues to support the idea of an IST mandate. “He believes it is just too valuable to leave off the table in risk reduction,” she told chemical industry executives attending the eighth annual sector security summit.

“We still feel there is too much value here”, in an IST mandate, Idelson said, adding: “Senator Lieberman is open to considering different formulations, but he feels that this is important.”

Idelson declined to say whether it is likely or possible that the Senate could complete work on comprehensive CFATS replacement legislation in the little time left - especially as the 2 November US elections approach and will consume more and more of House and Senate members’ time.

But she said she is confident that in the absence of any new legislation to make CFATS permanent, Congress will ensure that the programme continues as is for another year.

“I would be shocked if Congress would let this programme lapse,” she said. “Everyone on the Hill sees the value of this programme.”

She noted that the White House has put language in the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would extend the existing rules to the end of September 2011, saying that she is sure that Congress would approve that provision.

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

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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