Senators Drafting Bill That Could Extend Life of Chemical Security Program

Search and rescue workers comb through what remains of a 50-unit apartment building the day after an explosion at the West Fertilizer Company destroyed the building on April 18, 2013, in West, Texas. Senators are working on draft legislation that could extend the life of a controversial Homeland Security Department program meant to protect such facilities against terrorist attacks or sabotage.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
June 27, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

Sen­at­ors are work­ing on a bill that could ex­tend the life of a con­tro­ver­sial chem­ic­al se­cur­ity pro­gram, but de­tails still re­main un­der wraps.

The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee was to mark up what it is call­ing the “Pro­tect­ing Amer­ic­an Chem­ic­al Fa­cil­it­ies from At­tack Act of 2014” on June 25, but con­sid­er­a­tion of the meas­ure was ul­ti­mately de­leted, without ex­plan­a­tion, from the agenda of a com­mit­tee busi­ness meet­ing that day.

A spokes­wo­man for the pan­el, which is chaired by Sen­at­or Tom Carp­er (D-Del.), de­clined to provide de­tails re­gard­ing the le­gis­la­tion and how soon it might be un­veiled.

Carp­er’s com­mit­tee held a hear­ing on the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment’s Chem­ic­al Fa­cil­ity Anti-Ter­ror­ism Stand­ards on May 14. Dur­ing the hear­ing, Carp­er said a bill ap­proved in April by the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee could serve “as a mod­el for [his pan­el’s] work on this is­sue between now and the end of the year.”

The House le­gis­la­tion is backed by DHS of­fi­cials, largely be­cause it would provide mul­ti­year au­thor­iz­a­tion for a pro­gram that thus far has been re­newed an­nu­ally through the con­gres­sion­al ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess. DHS of­fi­cials have said un­cer­tainty stem­ming from year-to-year re­new­als has made it more dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies.

The House bill does not in­clude pro­vi­sions that would give the de­part­ment the au­thor­ity to re­quire spe­cif­ic se­cur­ity up­grades at fa­cil­it­ies. So-called “in­her­ently safer tech­no­logy” re­quire­ments are favored by labor uni­on of­fi­cials, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists and some Demo­crats, but are op­posed by Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry of­fi­cials.

The House le­gis­la­tion would also con­tin­ue an ex­emp­tion for wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­it­ies that has been cri­ti­cized by some Demo­crats and act­iv­ist groups. An in­ter­agency re­port re­leased by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion last month urged Con­gress to end the ex­emp­tion.

Carp­er, dur­ing the May 14 hear­ing, did not in­dic­ate wheth­er a Sen­ate bill might in­clude ad­di­tion­al pro­vi­sions meant to ad­dress any of these con­tro­ver­sies, but he did ac­know­ledge some of the CFATS pro­gram’s per­ceived short­com­ings.

Last year’s fatal ex­plo­sion at a fer­til­izer plant in West, Texas “showed that, in some cases, the De­part­ment likely isn’t aware of some fa­cil­it­ies that should be sub­mit­ting in­form­a­tion to the pro­gram but are not,” Carp­er said.

The non­par­tis­an Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice “and oth­er ex­perts have also ex­pressed con­cern that the de­part­ment’s meth­od for as­sess­ing risk for a chem­ic­al fa­cil­ity is in­com­plete,” Carp­er noted.

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