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Congress Restarts Plant Security Debate

The current federal program for securing the nation’s chemical facilities against potential terrorist attacks is working well and should be permanently extended without any major modifications, a chemical industry official told a congressional panel on Feb. 11.

The Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards (CFATS) program established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2007 is “demonstrably achieving its objectives,” Timothy J. Scott, chief security officer of Dow Chemical, said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection & Security Technologies.

Scott said CFATS, which is a temporary program that must be reauthorized this year, drives facilities to consider all risk-reduction options, including process safety improvements, when developing a site security plans.

“These tough regulations are yielding measurable results to manage or in some cases eliminate security risks,” Scott testified. “It’s important that we don’t lose this momentum.”

Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.), subcommittee chairman, said the best way to bolster security at chemical facilities is to allow DHS to fully implement CFATS before any significant program changes are enacted. “We’re not looking at a complete overhaul,” he said.

The Obama Administration, with the strong support of environmental groups, wants Congress to give DHS the authority to require facilities that make or use the most dangerous chemicals to adopt inherently safer technology (IST), such as switching to less toxic alternative substances.

Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said “inherently safer practices do work, are well understood, and can significantly increase security by reducing consequences of a release of chemicals.”

But Lungren said he would oppose such a requirement. “I don’t support a single-solution security approach,” he remarked. “It should not be mandated. There is no single definition of what IST is.”

An IST mandate would add an “unacceptable degree of uncertainty” to CFATS and place an “unjustifiably large burden” on chemical facilities and DHS, said Scott, who testified on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association.

M. Sam Mannan, a Texas A&M University chemical engineering professor, warned that U.S. facilities could be at a competitive disadvantage “if required to implement unproven technologies simply to meet a regulator’s position that such technology is more inherently safe.”

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