US House panel set to approve chemical security extension bill

03 May 2011 22:41  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A bill to extend the existing federal antiterrorism security mandate over US chemical facilities was expected to pass a key House of Representatives panel on Wednesday, according to sources on Tuesday.

The House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy was scheduled to vote on HR-908 late on Wednesday, according to subcommittee chairman John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois).

The subcommittee is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of two House panels with jurisdiction over chemical facility antiterrorism security requirements.

The bill would extend statutory authority to 2017 for the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), which have been enforced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since first implemented in 2007.

Statutory authority for CFATS technically expired at the end of September 2009, but the regulations have been continued by a series of short-term resolutions.

However, the US chemicals industry has been lobbying Congress for a long-term extension of the existing regulations so that plant operators would have some degree of regulatory certainty for a longer period.

HR-908 is similar to another bill, HR-901, approved in mid-April by a subsidiary panel of the House Homeland Security Committee, which shares jurisdiction in the matter with Energy and Commerce.

HR-901 would extend the existing regulations a year further to 2018, and it also provides an extra measure of security for information that regulated chemical companies must provide to the department for compliance purposes.

HR-908 was expected to win approval in Wednesday’s session of the Environment and Economy Subcommittee.

Both bills still face a vote by the respective full committees. Before being moved on to the full House, the two measures might be combined, or one could be sidelined in favour of the other.

But full House approval of a simple multi-year extension of CFATS was expected.

A long-term extension of the CFATS regulations faces a tougher contest in the US Senate, where some Democrats, with White House backing, want tougher chemical facility security requirements.

Among other things, Senate advocates of a tougher law want to give the department authority to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures on chemical plants as a security measure. 

The industry is opposed to such a provision, fearing it would give regulators power to dictate feedstock, process and even end-product selections to producers.

A Senate bill introduced at the end of March (S-709) would allow private right of action (PRA) lawsuits, meaning that individual citizens could file suit in federal court alleging violations of CFATS at a specific plant site and triggering enforcement action by the department.

A second Senate measure (S-473) would extend the existing CFATS requirements largely as-is but only until 2014.

Under the existing CFATS provisions, the department sets security standards for chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk for a possible terrorist attack, but plant owners and operators are free to make their own security measure selections to meet the federal standard.

By: Joe Kamalick
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