US chemical leader urges extended, fully funded CFATS programme

31 July 2012 23:26  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--A leading chemical industry official on Tuesday called for long-term extension and full funding for the federal chemical site security programme, warning that the five-year-old plan would otherwise be in jeopardy.

Larry Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), told an industry security conference that continuing implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is facing headwinds in a time of national political uncertainty and budget concerns.

Authorised by Congress in 2006 and established in 2007 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CFATS was to set security benchmarks for chemical facilities deemed to be at high risk of a terrorist attack.

Plant operators were to meet those standards by means of their individual preference in order to reduce if not eliminate the risk of attacks by terrorists seeking to cause massive off-site casualties by targeting a chemical plant.

But the programme has faced regular annual crises as supporters and opponents of CFATS in Congress disputed successive year-long extensions as the authorisation clock ticked away.

Industry members would prefer a five- or perhaps seven-year extension of the programme to provide them with a period of certainty in which they can implement security measures and bugdet for related costs without fear of shifting standards or new regulatory demands every year.

Speaking to some 600 industry executives at the sixth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit (CSSS), Sloan noted that last year key committees in both houses of Congress approved multi-year reauthorisations for CFATS.

“Unfortunately, politics being what they are in our nation’s capital prevented a final vote in either chamber, thus ending any chances of guaranteeing CFATS’s long-term extension until 2013,” he said.

“Also troubling is the fact that appropriators in Congress voted this year to slash funding for CFATS so drastically that, if approved, it could threaten the department’s ability to effectively implement the standards.”

The House Appropriations Committee earlier this year voted to reduce the Obama administration’s $75m (€61.5m) funding request for CFATS operations in 2013 to only $45.4m, a level that a DHS official said “would drastically curtail” the department’s ability to implement the programme.

The uncertainty surrounding long-term authorisation for CFATS and its funding level came amid controversy about the programme’s many delays and effectiveness.

“As many of you are aware, an internal assessment was made public in December that brought to light some serious challenges to DHS implementation of the programme,” Sloan said.

He said those concerns are aggravated by the fact that, “as we head into a general election this fall, our country faces historic decisions about federal spending under the shadow of an unstable economy”.

He added: “There is no mistake that we – the public and private sector alike – are facing some headwinds as we gather here in Baltimore this year.”

But he said the challenges to CFATS implementation can be overcome, especially because the alternatives – no national site security standards or an inflexible, one-size-fits-all federal mandate – are not acceptable.

Co-sponsored by DHS, SOCMA and the industry-based Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council (CSCC), the summit runs until Wednesday.

($1 = €0.82)

By: Joe Kamalick
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