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Plant Protection Faces Scrutiny

Chemical makers question technology mandate before Congress

by Glenn Hess
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Credit: Newscom
Congress is taking up legislation to reauthorize security regulations that govern chemical plants.
Credit: Newscom
Congress is taking up legislation to reauthorize security regulations that govern chemical plants.

A chemical industry representative urged Congress last week to pass legislation establishing permanent chemical facility security standards before the existing regulations expire this October.

American Chemistry Council "member companies fully recognize that more work needs to be done to continue protecting the nation's chemical sector," said Martin J. Durbin, vice president of federal affairs at ACC, in his testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee on June 16.

ACC, which represents 131 major chemical manufacturers, and other industry trade groups want Congress to reauthorize without significant changes the current rules, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). Companies are still implementing these rules and are concerned that new requirements may disrupt efforts already undertaken to comply with the law.

But Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee chairman, has introduced legislation (H.R. 2868) that, according to him, will "enhance the program" by making facilities analyze how they can change their internal processes to reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack.

"This legislation will help ensure that this vital industry and the population that lives around these facilities are safe and secure," Thompson said at the hearing.

Thompson's proposal is "an important first step" toward establishing permanent chemical security regulations, Durbin said. But he expressed concern about several provisions, including one that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authority to mandate process changes at facilities.

The mandate for "inherently safer technology" requires facilities designated as the highest risk targets to take steps as determined by DHS to reduce the risk of death and injury caused by a terrorist attack.

Such a requirement is unnecessary, Durbin told the panel, because CFATS essentially drives each facility to consider all possible risk reduction options when developing a site security plan. That's because the highest risk facilities "face significant cost to implement the stringent requirements and thus have a strong incentive to implement enhancements that could move the facility to a lower risk tier or potentially even move it out of the program," he explained.

The House committee was scheduled to vote on the bill late last week.



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