INSIDE VIEW: US chemical security standards face uncertain future

14 April 2011 14:48  [Source: ICIS news]

Editor’s note: This article is an opinion piece and the views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of ICIS.

By Lawrence D Sloan, SOCMA President & CEO

Terrorists determined to strike targets most meaningful to our way of life have forced us to take a closer look at the security surrounding our nation’s critical infrastructure. The chemical industry was among the first required by the federal government to safeguard our facilities against attack under the Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS), a vital programme now with an uncertain future.

In the four years since CFATS was enacted, chemical facilities nationwide have worked with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and deploy meaningful security enhancements. However, without timely Congressional action to extend DHS’s authority, these standards may not continue, thereby creating uncertainty among companies and disrupting the programme’s progress to date.

SOCMA members convened in Washington on Wednesday to urge their elected officials to, among other things, ensure the programme’s continued success through passage of a long-term reauthorisation of CFATS.

During more than 60 meetings on Capitol Hill, SOCMA members encouraged lawmakers to cosponsor legislation recently introduced by Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine), Representative Dan Lungren (Republican-California), or Representatives Tim Murphy (Republican-Pennsylvania) and Gene Green (Democrat-Texas) that would ensure the continuation of the current security rules without unnecessary and premature programmatic changes. The industry’s message could not be any timelier as a House Homeland Security subcommittee will vote on Lungren’s legislation (HR 901) on Thursday.

As with any issue, there are two sides to the debate over reauthorising CFATS. Aside from renewing the current programme, as proposed by a bipartisan group in Congress and supported by SOCMA, there are some in the House and Senate, such as Senator Lautenberg, who wish to sidetrack CFATS with unnecessary requirements. One such requirement would take decisions about chemistry and manufacturing safety away from those who know it best and give them to agencies in Washington. Most controversial of all, any facility covered by CFATS, including universities and hospitals, would be forced to substitute products deemed by bureaucrats as security risks. Such requirements clearly put an agenda ahead of people who rely on these products for very legitimate uses. 

While SOCMA agrees with the passage of a permanent law that maintains effective security standards for the chemical industry, we believe that the product substitution provision overreaches beyond chemical security. If proponents for government-mandated product substitution get their way, a shortage or elimination of common products made in America, like ibuprofen, could become a reality. Switching to alternative substances would also increase our reliance on foreign-made drugs as American companies become barred from manufacturing pharmaceutical ingredients that customers will still demand.  This unintended but likely consequence would actually make the US much less safe and secure and cost American jobs.

Because these security standards require facilities to take measurable actions backed by strong penalties for non-compliance, Democrats and Republicans alike have supported their continuation. SOCMA urges the House Homeland Security subcommittee to approve HR 901 without any significant changes tomorrow because doing so will take us one step closer to making the current programme permanent.

By: Staff Reporter
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