Key US House leader to oppose safer technology mandate

08 November 2010 23:43  [Source: ICIS news]

US Representative Peter KingWASHINGTON (ICIS)--The incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said on Monday that legislation for permanent anti-terrorism security rules for US chemical facilities will not allow federal officials to dictate manufacturing decisions.

Representative Peter King of New York, now the ranking Republican on that panel, said that under his chairmanship in the new Congress that convenes in January, “the committee will take up a permanent authorisation of CFATS to give it a sense of real continuity”.

He was referring to the existing four-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) through which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sets security standards at some 6,000 US chemical plants and facilities deemed to be at high risk for possible terrorist attacks.

King indicated he does not favour and would not propose more strict security measures such as those included in a Democrat-sponsored bill that was approved by the House late last year.

That bill, HR-2868, would have given the department authority to impose inherently safer technologies (IST) on high-risk chemical facilities in order to reduce their attractiveness as potential terrorist targets.

US chemical makers have long opposed such an IST mandate, fearing that it would give DHS power to force changes in feedstocks, processes and even end products at specific plants.

The federal anti-terrorism security standards for US chemical facilities were put in force in 2006 but were due to expire at the end of 2009.  The rules were given a one-year extension to cover 2010 but are again about to expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts in December to renew the current programme for another year.

King said that Republican legislation to be put forward next year to update and codify CFATS “will avoid giving DHS unfettered authority to mandate how facilities should manufacture their products”, a reference to the IST provision in last year’s Democrat bill.

“We will study how businesses have reacted to the current regulatory requirements [and] what impact CFATS has had on the risk of chemical terrorism,” King said.

He said the committee also would consider “whether additional mandates or incentives are necessary to reduce risk”.

The bill passed by the House last year also would have allowed private citizens to file complaints or petitions with the Department of Homeland Security to force the department to take regulatory action against specific chemical facilities.

King indicated that such a provision would be stripped from next year’s Republican version of a CFATS renewal.

He said the committee under his leadership would “address the concerns of the department to ensure new legislation does not open DHS up to unnecessary litigation”.

The Democrat-sponsored CFATS renewal legislation approved by the House last year has not yet been considered by the full Senate.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee recently passed a three-year extension of the current regulations, but full Senate consideration or approval of that measure is not likely in the few weeks remaining to the 111th Congress.

Instead, the existing anti-terrorism standards for chemical plants were expected to be extended into 2011 as part of a budget measure for DHS that Congress must pass before 3 December.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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