Congress expected to approve CFATS bill but not TSCA reform

22 April 2014 18:15 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US Congress likely will approve this year a three-year extension of existing antiterrorism standards for chemical plants, leading industry officials said on Tuesday, but getting TSCA reform done this year remains elusive.

Larry Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that “chances for progress on CFATS is much more positive between now and the end of the year”.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) generally have been renewed on an annual basis by Congress since 2007, a process that industry officials say makes it difficult for regulated firms to ensure they are meeting those standards and how to budget for security spending on a longer-term basis.

A bill now pending in the US House would extend CFATS for three years, and SOCMA officials think that renewal bill can be completed by both the House and Senate and sent to the president this year.

“The reason we are more positive about a three-year CFATS authorisation is that there is virtually no opposition in the Senate or House like there was last year,” said SOCMA vice president for government affairs Bill Allmond.

Because enforcement of CFATS by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been beset by delays, mismanagement, cost overruns and personnel issues, many in Congress had wanted to hold CFATS renewals to an annual schedule in order to maintain closer supervision of enforcement progress.

But DHS is said to have made considerable progress over the last year in improving its CFATS operations, so opposition on the Hill to a multi-year extension has eased.

Allmond noted that the House bill granting a three-year extension already has been moved out of subcommittee level, and he said that a parallel multi-year extension bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate before the end of May.

Sloan said that a full House floor vote on a three-year extension is expected before Congress goes on its month-long August recess.

But getting Congress to move forward this year on legislation to reform and modernise the 38-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is a much bigger challenge.

In a conference call with reporters, Allmond said that the bipartisan Senate bill to replace TSCA, S-1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), still faces opposition from Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California).

Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that has jurisdiction over TSCA, has long been concerned that a federal pre-emption clause in CSIA could override her state’s own tough regulations on chemicals in commerce.

That issue and others of concern to environmental groups, said Allmond, are prolonging discussions between Boxer and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the principal author of CISA and the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment Committee.

“Reform of TSCA is still waiting on Senator Boxer,” Allmond said, “and whether she will allow the Vitter bill to move forward.”

As chairwoman of the committee, Boxer controls whether the measure will get hearings or otherwise advance.

Getting a TSCA reform bill through the Senate “remains quite elusive for this year”, Allmond said.

Prospects for congressional action on TSCA reform are further complicated by the fact this is a US election year.  Historically, members of Congress facing re-election contests have been reluctant to vote on controversial bills that could work against their chances at the polls.

The US midterm election will be held on 4 November.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By Joe Kamalick