White House seeks IST mandate for chemical plant security

11 February 2011 19:01  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The Obama administration on Friday asked Congress to impose tougher antiterrorism security requirements on US chemical facilities, including authority for regulators to force inherently safer technology (IST) techniques on specific plant sites.

Rand Beers, an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told the House Homeland Security Committee that his department “should have the authority to implement IST methods” if necessary to enhance antiterrorist security precautions at chemical plants.

The hearing before the subcommittee on infrastructure protection was the first this year to consider permanent extension of the four-year-old Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

The US petrochemical and downstream chemicals industries have long opposed plans by some in Congress and the administration to impose an IST mandate on their operations.

Chemical makers, along with refiners and other process industry officials, fear that an IST mandate for the department would give regulators power to force changes in a specific facility’s feedstocks, processes or even end products.

Beers said that the White House favours giving the department authority to impose inherently safer technology measures for security reasons at “facilities posing the highest degree of risk ... if such methods demonstrably enhance overall security, are determined to be feasible, and ... consider public health and environmental requirements”.

Also testifying at Friday’s hearing, Dow Chemical’s chief security officer, Timothy Scott, voiced opposition to an IST requirement in any extension or rewrite of CFATS.

“Allowing for the imposition of a single type of risk-mitigation measure would only serve to undermine the success of the programme to date,” Scott said.

Speaking on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Scott said that an IST mandate was not necessary and would “place an unjustifiably large burden on chemical facilities and DHS”.

He also argued that Beers’ request for an IST mandate “flies in the face of the administration’s goal to establish the ‘best, most innovative and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends’.”

Scott was quoting an order issued last month by President Barack Obama instructing federal regulators to minimise and reform federal rules in the interest of easing the burden on businesses and to promote innovation and job growth.

Testimony submitted by the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) also argued against IST authority for the department and urged permanent extension of the CFATS programme in its current form.

“An IST mandate on the chemicals industry would take decisions away from the process safety experts who know their own processes best,” said SOCMA president Lawrence Sloan.

He cautioned that an IST mandate would “create negative unintended consequences and increase or transfer overall risks”. Sloan said that Congress could extend CFATS for three years or more and then review progress to see if substantive changes were needed.

NPRA officials reiterated their longstanding opposition to an IST requirement and urged the panel to approve permanent authorisation for CFATS “without the addition of any extraneous provisions”.

“We strongly oppose the inclusion of any IST provisions in chemical security legislation,” NPRA said. “IST and chemical engineering decisions should be left to individual sites and not mandated by the federal government.”

The CFATS regulations would expire in early March unless Congress either approves another short-term extension of the existing rules, or votes to give the programme permanent and open-ended statutory authority.

Observers say that, given that only a few weeks remain before authority for the current rules expires, Congress was likely to give CFATS another short-term extension, perhaps for a year. That would allow legislators time to consider what changes, if any, may be needed for the programme.

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