US Senate gets long-awaited chemical security bill

15 July 2010 23:11  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Senator Frank Lautenberg on Thursday introduced a long-anticipated bill to tighten anti-terrorism security at the nation’s chemicals facilities, including a mandate to force producers to implement inherently safer technologies (IST).

The Lautenberg bill, the "Secure Chemical Facilities Act," was patterned on HR-2868, the chemical facility legislation approved by the US House of Representatives in November last year. That bill also contained a strong IST mandate.

Lautenberg, a Democrat representing New Jersey, a state where many chemical facilities are located, said his bill would require producers at high-risk plants to assess their vulnerability and develop plans to address perceived weaknesses that could be exploited by would-be terrorists.

That approach was already part of the existing and nearly four-year old federal site security regulations, formally known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

But Lautenberg’s bill also “requires the highest-risk facilities to put in place inherently safer technology (IST) to increase public and environmental safety”.

An IST mandate is widely opposed by US chemicals manufacturers who fear that it would give the Department of Homeland Security authority to force changes in a given facility’s feedstocks, processes and even end products.

In particular, Lautenberg said his 107-page bill would require that chemical plants “evaluate whether the facility could reduce the consequences of an attack by, for example, using a safer chemical or process”.

“The facility must implement those safer measures if it has been classified as one of the highest-risk facilities, implementation of safer measures is feasible, and implementation would not increase risk overall by shifting risk to another location,” according to Lautenberg’s summary of the bill.

The bill also would “allow communities to have a role in ensuring local facilities comply with these regulations”, an apparent reference to private right of action (PRA) lawsuits.

Under a private right of action, any citizen in the neighbourhood of a high-risk chemical facility could bring suit in federal court to force compliance with federal security requirements. This measure also is opposed by the industry.

Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), noted that Lautenberg’s bill has been expected for many months and was largely similar to the House-passed measure.

“We could not support the House bill because of its IST mandate,” said Jensen, indicating that the council similarly would oppose Lautenberg’s legislation.

He said that the council continued to support the existing CFATS risk-based regulations and performance standards and would prefer to see those rules extended for several years.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has introduced a bipartisan bill that would extend the current CFATS requirements for five years.

That measure and the House-approved security bill were expected to come before the Senate Homeland Security Committee in the last week of July.

“It is important that a facility is allowed the flexibility to determine the best approach to meeting the CFATS standards,” Jensen said, “and not focus on any one security measure.”

Reliable Senate sources say that it was unlikely that there is enough time left in the Senate legislative calendar to complete work on a comprehensive chemical facility security revision bill such as Lautenberg’s or the House-passed measure.

Sources said that odds favoured passage of the Collins five-year extension bill or, at the very least, a one-year extension that is provided in the Obama administration’s pending fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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