Monday, November 09, 2009

House Passes Chemical & Water Security Act (H.R. 2868)

Nov 6: The House of Representatives passed by a vote of 230 to 193 the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868) [See WIMS 10/23/09]. According to a release from the Energy and Commerce Committee, the bill strengthens security at America's chemical plants and drinking water and wastewater facilities by establishing risk-based and reasonable security standards for these critical assets. H.R. 2868 reauthorizes the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, which is slated to expire October 2010, and improves the program in many ways. It also authorizes U.S. EPA to establish similar security programs for drinking water and wastewater facilities.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee said, "I am pleased that the House has acted to close the critical security gap at drinking water facilities and to strengthen security requirements for chemical facilities. The Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 will reduce the risk that chemicals used by our own chemical facilities are turned against us through terrorist attack and other intentional acts. This bill will make our country safer."

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee said, "Today the House took decisive action to secure our nation's chemical plants and drinking water facilities from a potential terrorist attack. This bill will help shore up a potential vulnerability in our defenses, as the same chemicals that help purify our water and make the microchips used in our computers could potentially be turned into weapons of mass destruction. The bill contains language that I have championed for five years that provides authority to require the riskiest facilities to use safer chemicals or processes when they are technologically and economically feasible. This is central to protecting the millions of Americans that live near these facilities -- since terrorists cannot blow up what is no longer there."

According to a summary from the Committee, the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009: (1) Makes the DHS CFATS program permanent. The legislation strengthens the chemical security program by requiring the review and, in some cases, the implementation of safer technologies, adding enforcement tools, and protecting the right of workers to participate in developing and implementing chemical facility security plans. (2) Authorizes EPA to create a risk-based, performance-based program for the water sector similar to the one established by DHS for chemical plants. This gives effect to the regulatory approach that the Obama Administration supports. (3) Requires the riskiest chemical facilities, drinking water facilities, and water treatment works to assess and, when appropriate, implement methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack (also known as inherently safer technologies [ISTs]). (4) Strengthens the enforcement of the CFATS program by allowing citizens to bring suit against the Secretary of DHS for failure to perform non-discretionary obligations.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) President and CEO, Cal Dooley, released a statement saying, “The legislation approved by the House today is an important step toward building upon the ongoing success of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) by making them permanent. While ACC is unable to endorse the bill due primarily to concerns over the potential impact of the authority granted to DHS to mandate the implementation of IST, we appreciate the efforts by both the House Energy & Commerce and Homeland Security Committee to seek our input to improve the legislation. Specifically, we were encouraged by changes that ensure proper protections for sensitive information and a civil lawsuit provision that bolsters oversight while still protecting private companies from frivolous lawsuits.

“We look forward to working with Senate in the same spirit to pass legislation that takes an aggressive but smart approach to regulating chemical security and ensures DHS has the resources to help us protect our facilities, our employees, the communities in which we operate, and the vital products we supply everyday to the nation.”

Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace USA indicated, “Although it’s a compromise, this bill represents a historic first step toward protecting the 100 million Americans living in the shadow of high-risk chemical plants. Attempts by House Republicans to weaken the legislation were voted down. “The day after a terrorist attack at a chemical plant kills thousands of Americans, any suggestion that we should not require the use of safer chemicals at these plants will be considered totally crazy. Republicans should have been offering amendments to strengthen this modest legislation instead of trying to cripple it.”

Greenpeace cited the recent announcement from the Clorox Company which indicated it plans to convert all of their U.S. facilities from ultra-hazardous chlorine gas to liquid bleach to “strengthen our operations and add another layer of security,” according to their CEO Don Knauss. Clorox also indicated that these changes “won’t affect the size of the company’s workforce." Hind from Greenpeace added, “by leading the way in eliminating the potential consequences of a catastrophic terrorist attack or accident, Clorox provided Congress with compelling new evidence to enact chemical plant security legislation.”

Access a release from the Energy & Commerce Committee and link to the bill text (
click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2868 including the roll call vote (click here). Access the statement from ACC and link to additional information (click here). Access the ACC position and more on ISTs (click here). Access a lengthy release from Greenpeace (click here).