Renewal Bill Sets Benchmarks for U.S. Chemical-Security Initiative

Smoke rises from a 2011 fire at a chemical processing plant in Waxahachie, Texas. U.S. House legislation introduced last Thursday would extend a Homeland Security Department chemical-security program for two years and establish new requirements for the initiative.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
Feb. 10, 2014, 6:10 a.m.

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.

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