The Obama Administration has endorsed an industry-opposed provision in anti-terrorism legislation that would give the federal government the authority to order high-risk chemical facilities to switch to safer manufacturing processes or to use less hazardous substances.
"The Administration supports, where possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals, to enhance the security of the nation's high-risk chemical facilities," said Rand Beers, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official, in testimony before a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on Oct. 1.
The pending legislation, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868), would permanently reauthorize the current federal program for regulating security at thousands of facilities across the U.S. where chemicals are made, used, or stored.
But the bill would also make several changes in the existing regulations—the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, or CFATS.
Under H.R. 2868, facilities would be required to assess methods for reducing the consequences of a terrorist attack, including whether alternative chemicals, processes, or technologies are cost-effective and feasible and would actually reduce risk. The bill also gives DHS the authority to mandate that the riskiest facilities adopt a so-called inherently safer technology (IST).
"This is a common-sense policy that will help make facilities reduce the likelihood that they will become attractive terrorist targets," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Martin J. Durbin, vice president of federal affairs for the American Chemistry Council, which represents more than 130 chemical companies, told the subcommittee that giving DHS the power to order process changes is unnecessary.
The two-year-old CFATS program "has already demonstrated that it drives each facility to consider all possible risk reduction options, including methods to reduce consequences, or inherently safer approaches when developing a site security program," Durbin said.
Testifying on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA), Stephen Poorman, international environmental, health and safety manager for Fujifilm Imaging Colorants, also argued against federally-mandated chemical substitution, warning that such a move could "legitimately ban products that improve daily living," such as the chemical raw materials used in the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
At a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee in June, DHS officials did not take a position on the IST proposal, but did say the department would need to hire additional experts if Congress adopts the mandate.
DHS's authority to regulate security at chemical facilities is set to expire at the end of the month. House and Senate negotiators are working out differences in fiscal 2010 appropriations bills for DHS that would extend the authority for another year, giving Congress more time to work out a permanent reauthorization.