06 February 2014 21:01 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A bill to extend the federal law governing antiterrorism security at chemical facilities was introduced on Thursday in the US House, a measure that would continue the current statute largely unchanged for two years.
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), passed by Congress in 2006 and enforced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), gives the department authority to set security standards for some 5,000 US sites that produce, store or transit chemicals and that might be vulnerable to an attack by terrorists seeking massive off-site casualties.
But the CFATS enforcement programme has been plagued by delays and mismanagement, so much so that Congress has been reluctant to give the statute a significant multi-year extension.
Chemicals producers have long sought a fairly lengthy extension for CFATS, something like five or even seven years, so that they can have some certainty in the law and its enforcing regulations.
At present, because of troubles the DHS has had in getting the program on an even keel, Congress has insisted on annual renewals, just to maintain close oversight.
But for chemical facility operators, that annual congressional review raises the possibility that legislators will tinker with the statute, perhaps tighten the standards or otherwise move the goalposts.
The measure introduced on Thursday was sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas), Representative Patrick Meehan (Republican-Pennsylvania) and Representative Gene Green (Democrat-Texas), along with other House members.
The bill is formally titled the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Authorisation and Accountability Act” of 2014.
In addition to extending CFATS for two years, said Meehan, the bill improves the troubled certification process “by allowing automatic re-approval of alternative site security plans and permitting third-party audits and inspections” with the approval of DHS.
John Shanahan, vice president for legislative affairs at the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), said the McCaul bill “is a much needed step in the right direction and creates a multi-year extension of the programme”.
Many of NACD’s 420 member firms come under the DHS security mandate.
A two-year extension of CFATS, Shanahan said, provides “certainty for industry, the Department of Homeland Security and the public”.
He said that the bill, if passed, “would allow companies to make long-term planning and investment decisions for plant security”.
Shanahan also noted that the extension would give the DHS “time to address needed improvements to the programme, including expediting the process of certifying facilities”.
Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that his group “has been working closely with the [committee] for the last few months on this bill and we are pleased with the outcome”.
“This bill provides a stronger foundation for the programme, lays out a clearer direction for DHS and helps our members better anticipate compliance as a result of a multi-year authorisation,” Allmond said.
Under CFATS, while the department sets site security standards, plant operators are free to use whatever preparations and precautions they chose to meet the DHS criteria.
Once a plant operator has completed upgrades to the site’s security measures, DHS inspectors must visit the facility to certify that it meets the standards.
Plant site operators have complained that the on-site DHS inspection visits often can take days, costing time and money for the facility.
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