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Industrial Safety

Senate debates antiterrorism bill for US chemical industry

Hearing does little to resolve conflict over controversial bill

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
June 6, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 23

 

On June 4, the US Senate took up reauthorization of a controversial 11-year-old antiterrorism statute affecting chemical companies that make, use, or store large quantities of more than 300 hazardous chemicals.

But it didn’t make progress resolving a disagreement between Democrats in the US House of Representatives and Republicans in the Senate that stalled the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) last year. Led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), some senators wanted to make industry-backed changes to CFATS before they endorsed a multiyear reauthorization of the law. House Democrats opposed that idea. A temporary agreement eventually allowed the law to continue for 15 months.

Under CFATS, some 3,500 facilities must assess terrorism risks and implement site-security plans to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A Senate hearing, chaired by Johnson, started where last year’s debate left off. Johnson and industry panelists complained of CFATS’ excessive regulations, intrusive inspections, and duplication and conflicts with other regulations.

Officials with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and DHS urged reauthorization but noted shortcomings in the current law. GAO’s Nathan Anderson said DHS needs better “performance measures” to assess whether company antiterrorism efforts are adequate. It also needs to improve communication of company-specific plant information to local first responders. A GAO survey found that 13 of 15 local emergency-planning agencies did not know that a tool intended to aid emergency planners was even available, and 7 of 11 were unaware that a CFATS facility was in their region.

Despite industry fears of overregulation, DHS’s Brian Harrell noted that his agency’s goal is to improve security, not issue fines. He noted that of the 3,500 regulated facilities, only 4 had received enforcement actions for compliance failures.

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