Key US Senate panel okays 3-yr extension on site security law

28 July 2010 17:18  [Source: ICIS news]

Key US Senate panel approves 3-yr extension of security rulesWASHINGTON (ICIS)--A key US Senate committee on Wednesday gave unanimous approval for a three-year extension of existing federal anti-terrorism security requirements at the nation’s chemical facilities, a major win for US chemical producers.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee voted 13-0 to approve a bill sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine) that would extend the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) to October 2013.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, which is expected to follow the committee’s lead and approve the measure.

The Collins bill is in sharp contrast to legislation approved by the US House last year that would have made significant changes in the existing three-year-old regulatory programme, including a provision for mandatory use of inherently safer technology (IST) as a security tool.

But the Senate committee rejected that approach in the Wednesday vote, although Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) said he thought some sort of IST mandate might be appropriate and that further negotiations on that issue with the House might be possible before final congressional action.

A Senate bill similar to the House-approved legislation was introduced earlier this month, but Lieberman did not bring that measure forward for consideration at Wednesday's session of his committee, indicating that it likely will not be moved to the full Senate anytime in the remainder of this year.

The US chemicals industry had strongly favoured a multi-year extension of the existing rules, arguing that the three-year-old programme was still getting started and should be allowed more time to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The industry also was heatedly opposed to the IST mandate in the House bill, arguing that it would give the enforcing agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), authority to force changes in a given plant’s feedstocks, processes or even end products.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee’s unanimous approval of the Collins bill is seen as a major win for the industry.

The Congress is under pressure to move quickly on extending or amending the existing CFATS rules because they are due to expire on 4 October this year.

With the House-passed measure so different from the Collins bill approved on Wednesday by the Senate panel, a House-Senate conference committee must be formed to hash out a compromise in time for final congressional action by the end of September.

The Collins bill also includes provisions for chemical industry emergency response training in co-ordination with state and local police, fire and rescue organisations, and it also would establish a best-practices clearing house and an advisory board of security experts to aid in the ongoing implementation of CFATS.

However, none of these provisions represents a substantive change in the existing regulatory programme.

 No full Senate vote on the Collins bill has yet been scheduled.

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