A U.S. bill introduced late last week would renew the Homeland Security Department's chemical-security initiative for two years and set benchmarks for the effort.
The legislation offered by Representative Patrick Meehan (R-Penn.) would allow for "automatic re-approval" of alternative security plans under the Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards initiative, which aims to reduce the risk of sabotage at sites handling potentially dangerous chemicals. The proposal also would allow the Homeland Security secretary to permit outside audits and compliance checks of chemical sites, according to a House Homeland Security Committee press release.
The program has faced criticism from lawmakers in recent years for its slow assessment of site-protection plans, as well as a multitude of other management issues.
The new legislation would seek to prevent facilities from falling "off the grid" of oversight by requiring the Homeland Security Department to implement a "workable" system for categorizing relative levels of risk for catastrophe posed by various sites, the committee statement says. It adds that the bill directs the department to take related steps with input from agencies and private entities at state and local levels.
The Homeland Security Secretary would have to "confirm progress" on the matter within 18 months, the press release says.
"This bipartisan legislation takes meaningful, prudent steps toward strengthening the security of our chemical facilities and it sends a message to both industry and the Obama administration that Congress is serious about addressing the vulnerability of our chemical sector to terrorist attack," Meehan said in released remarks. He chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
The bill's backers include House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), as well as Representatives Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Gene Green (D-Texas). Its other co-sponsors are Representatives Peter King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the homeland security panel's Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, and Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who chairs the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.
The Homeland Security Committee has introduced legislation in the past to re-authorize the chemical-security initiative, but the proposals did not advance in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the program.