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Bill Targets Security Gap

Congress: Legislation would identify facilities that do not comply with existing regulations

by Glenn Hess
July 14, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 28

Credit: Rep. Meehan’s office
Rep. Patrick L. Meehan (R-Pa.) Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
Credit: Rep. Meehan’s office

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have to take steps to ensure that all high-risk chemical facilities in the U.S. are complying with federal security requirements under a bill passed last week by the House of Representatives.

The legislation (H.R. 4007), which would extend DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program for three years, is designed in part to address so-called outlier facilities. These are mostly small retail chemical suppliers that are “high risk” because they store significant amounts of hazardous substances but have failed to register with DHS and put security measures in place, as current law requires.

The issue came to light in April 2013, when a fertilizer distribution facility in West, Texas, caught fire and exploded, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds more.

Some state and federal agencies were aware that the Texas facility was storing vast quantities of ammonium nitrate and other chemicals subject to regulation under CFATS. But DHS officials did not know the plant existed.

The bill would require DHS to improve information sharing among federal agencies and work more closely with states in identifying noncompliant facilities.

“The explosion in West, Texas, demonstrated how catastrophic an attack on one of these facilities would be,” says Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), the bill’s chief sponsor. “It is vitally important that we ensure our first responders have adequate knowledge of where these facilities are located.”

Chemical industry officials say the three-year CFATS extension, called an authorization, will encourage companies to make the long-term capital investments needed to enhance security. In past years, Congress has maintained CFATS only on an annual basis through the appropriations process.

“Our member companies support CFATS. But like any business, they need to be able to plan for the future,” says William E. Allmond IV, vice president of government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, an industry trade group. A multiyear CFATS authorization “provides that added level of certainty, giving our members the confidence they need to continue implementing the program,” he says.

The Senate is expected to consider similar CFATS legislation later in the year.



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