Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Agreement Reached On Chemical Facility Security

Sep 26: An agreement reached last week by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) on bipartisan chemical security legislation has been approved by a Senate-House negotiating panel and will be included in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report for FY07 (HR 5441) [See WIMS 9/25/06]. The agreement give DHS three-year authority to regulate certain “high-risk” chemical plants. Senator Collins said, “This is major step forward in our efforts to better secure our homeland. Many homeland security experts, including [Department of Homeland Security (DHS)] Secretary Chertoff, have said time and time again that our nation’s chemical facilities pose a threat that must be immediately addressed. Our chemical security provisions, which represent two years of work and negotiations with a number of my colleagues, will, for the first time, provide DHS with the authority to require security measures at more than 3, 400 chemical facilities. The bill provides the Secretary with the strongest possible authority to enforce those standards by empowering the Secretary to shut down a facility that does not meet security standards. This is critical legislation, and I am pleased that it will be included in the DHS spending bill.”

The Collins-King agreement included in the DHS Appropriations Act Conference Report would: For the first time, give DHS the authority to require high-risk chemical plants to implement security measures; Direct DHS to establish risk-based and performance-based standards for chemical facilities to help protect against terrorist attacks; Require chemical plants to conduct vulnerability assessments and create and implement site security plans based on their specific vulnerabilities, subject to approval by the Secretary of DHS; Give DHS the authority to require compliance with its security requirements, including the authority to audit and inspect facilities, and to shut down a facility if it is not complying; Provide strong interim authority for up to three years until permanent, comprehensive authority is enacted.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued a release urging Congress to act before they adjourn this week. ACC, the leading trade association of the chemistry industry, represents 133 chemical manufacturers who encompass approximately 85% of the chemical production capacity in the United States. ACC President and CEO Jack Gerard said, "Congress just took an important step toward enacting meaningful chemical security legislation. While not perfect, it is a fair compromise that allows the Department of Homeland Security to protect this critical part of the nation’s infrastructure and builds on the leadership demonstrated by our members who have already spent nearly $3 billion enhancing security under the Responsible Care Security Code®. We urge the full Congress to act within the limited time remaining and pass this important legislation that gives the Department of Homeland Security full authority to secure America’s chemical facilities.”

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), representing 450 companies, including virtually all US refiners and petrochemical manufacturers, also issued a statement saying, "NPRA agrees that the provision should not cover facilities already subject to the extensive security requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), and that the regulations should permit each covered facility to select appropriate measures to meet the standards set by DHS. NPRA is pleased that the legislation recognizes the importance of protecting vulnerability assessments and specific site security plans from unwarranted and problematic public disclosure, as does the MTSA. The measure does provide for the appropriate sharing of information with state and local law enforcement officials, along with first responders, whose vital duties may require in-depth knowledge of security-related information."

There were disagreements expressed on the agreement from both Republicans and Democrats. Concerns on both sides were expressed regarding the a concept called Inherently Safer Technology (IST) and its relation, if any, to making chemical sites more secure against terrorist acts. At a Senate hearing on IST in June [See WIMS 6/21/06), Senator James Inhofe, Chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works said that IST is essentially the idea of giving the Federal government authority to mandate that a private company change its manufacturing process or the chemicals that they use. Some Republican members are concerned that the DHS "shut down" provisions could require facilities to implement IST. Democrats, on the other hand said the agreement was too weak because IST wasn't mandated and language allowing states to develop stronger requirements was not included.

Access a release from Susan Collins (click here). Access a statement and links to additional information from ACC (click here). Access the NPRA statement (click here). Access legislative details for HR 5441 (click here). Access the Senate hearing website on IST for links to all testimony and statements (click here). Access the GAO statement on IST (click here). Access links to the latest media coverage on the agreement (click here). [*Haz]