US Congress might fail to pass long-term chemical security bill

05 July 2011 22:29  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Congress may fail to pass a broadly supported long-term extension of existing US chemical facility antiterrorism regulations, a top industry official said on Tuesday, meaning that regulated producers likely will face another one-year renewal.

Bill Allmond, vice president for government relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that despite strong bipartisan backing for House and Senate bills that would extend the existing security requirements as-is for three to seven years, Congress might simply run out of time to approve one or another of those measures before the 1 October expiration of the rules.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) originally were set to expire in 2009, but were given two successive one-year extensions by Congress.

The US chemicals sector and other process manufacturers covered by the antiterrorism security rules would prefer to see a multi-year extension of the current regulations so that they will have some measure of certainty about the requirements for more than one year.

Annual debates on how long to extend CFATS and whether to amend the rules create uncertainty for chemical producers and other hazardous materials companies that are subject to security mandates under the rules enforced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Two House committees recently passed similar bills that would extend CFATS as-is for seven years. A Senate panel also approved a measure giving CFATS a three-year extension.

If approved by full floor votes in both the House and Senate, a compromise bill would likely see the regulations extended for about five years, Allmond said.

But while the extension bills were approved with comfortable bipartisan majorities in all three congressional committees, Allmond said that major issue demands on Congress and the fast-approaching 1 October deadline may make it impossible for completion of a multi-year extension of the rules.

“I want to remain optimistic, but it is difficult to see how Congress can get a long-term extension bill to President Obama’s desk by October first,” Allmond said.

He noted that Congress is embroiled in discussions on raising the US debt limit, separate debates over fiscal year 2012 spending bills and controversy over the president’s war powers authority concerning US military operations in Libya.

Speaking on the sidelines of the opening day of the ninth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit, Allmond said he was confident that both the Senate and House would vote in favour of a multi-year extension of CFATS if the bills could be brought to a floor vote in each chamber.

“Industry has to press members of Congress to not let these bills - which have been strongly approved by bipartisan votes in three committees - fall to delays in the legislative calendar,” Allmond said.

If Congress does fail to act on the multi-year extension measures, the existing CFATS rules would be extended automatically for another year, to 1 October 2012, as part of the DHS fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill that was expected to get congressional approval before the end of September.

Allmond said that SOCMA president Larry Sloan was expected to issue a call to industry officials on Wednesday, urging them to press their congressional representatives for prompt action on the committee-approved CFATS extension bills.

Cosponsored by DHS, SOCMA and other industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, the security conference runs through Thursday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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