Controversial US chemical site security plan begins to creak forward

25 September 2012 23:04  [Source: ICIS news]

CAMBRIDGE, Maryland (ICIS)--Controversial federal regulation of anti-terrorism security measures at US chemical facilities has begun to move forward, a leading industry official said on Tuesday, but doubts remain about how well the programme will work.

Larry Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that his trade group “continues to be optimistic about getting action from the DHS [Department of Homeland Security], but it has been slower than we would like”.

Sloan was referring to the long-troubled Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) being implemented by the DHS.

Under the standards, authorised by Congress in 2006, high-risk chemical sites are required to conduct security vulnerability assessments and submit to the DHS plans to correct flaws or improve protection to meet criteria set by the department.

The DHS is required to review, approve or revise those site security plans (SSPs) and then make follow-up inspections at plant sites.

But according to recent government reports and congressional hearings and despite six years of effort and some $500m (€385m) in spending, the CFATS programme still is not up and running.

Sloan said that DHS officials have told him that they have approved some 84 site security plans and have conducted a handful of on-site chemical facility inspections, perhaps three or four.

“They’re saying they plan to make 300 on-site inspections in 2013,” Sloan said.

“But we’re wary,” he said, “and we think they’re a bit optimistic in that.”

Sloan noted that the department recently reported that it has trained more than 100 agents to carry out the 300 site inspections planned for next year. He suggested that the inspection schedule seemed overly ambitious for the number of agents now trained.

But Sloan said that not all of the problems surrounding delayed CFATS implementation can be laid to the department.

“Because we don’t have a multi-year extension of CFATS, people in the department are necessarily uncertain about how the programme will be continued, whether Congress will make changes,” Sloan said.

SOCMA and other industry groups in the US chemicals sector have long sought a five- to seven-year extension of the CFATS underlying legislation in order to provide a period of regulatory certainty and budget confidence for companies covered by the regulations.

But Congress has been extending the CFATS authorisation year-by-year since the measure was enacted in 2006. And, because of new controversies that have come to light about implementation problems at the department, members of Congress have said they want to continue annual reauthorisations for the programme in order to maintain close oversight.

Sloan said that DHS officials have been very communicative and that “there is an ongoing dialogue, and we’ve been pleased by the level of support from the department”.

He said that top-level DHS officials with responsibility for CFATS enforcement “have been sensitive to the needs of small producers” but that the department “has a lot of work to do and they have to step it up”.

Sloan said that the long delay in the department’s implementation of CFATS has not in his view compromised security at US chemical facilities.

He said that in his visits to more than 50 chemical plants in the last couple of years he has seen that “Our companies want to do the right thing, and they have been investing in systems to safeguard their facilities”.

Sloan was speaking on the sidelines of the SOCMA Leadership Conference, a newly revived bi-annual event that was last held in 2008. About 70 industry executives are expected to attend the two day programme that begins on Wednesday.

($1 = €0.77)

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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