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Chemical Industry Disputes Claim That Security Program is Burdensome

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON – Suggestions by an influential conservative group that a federal chemical security program ought to be discontinued is creating a stir amongst industry officials, who widely regard participation in the initiative as the most efficient way to protect their facilities from terrorist attacks.

Congress created the Homeland Security Department’s Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards initiative in 2007, after years of debate on Capitol Hill regarding how best to ensure that chemical manufacturing plants and other high-risk facilities could not be used as tools of terrorism in the post-9/11 world.

Industry lobbied against a proposal that would have required plants to use specific “inherently safer technology” less vulnerable to attacks that what companies might already be using. Ultimately they got behind the enacted DHS program in which government can set security standards, but cannot dictate the specific technology that a company uses to meet those mandates.

Congressional authorization for the program is due to expire in October, and industry groups are backing legislation in the Republican-controlled House that would extend the initiative.

An Aug. 14 report released by the Heritage Foundation argues, however, that the regulations imposed by the DHS program “are the wrong approach to chemical facility security and only represent an unnecessary burden on the chemical industry.”

The assessment says the CFATS effort overprescribes “federal solutions with which the private sector must comply, threatening innovation and economic expansion.” Rather than continue the program, the Homeland Security Department “and Congress should collaborate to develop common-sense, market-conscious policy solutions for U.S. chemical security.”

Jessica Zuckerman, the report’s author, told Global Security Newswire that the organization does not support continuing the program in its current form and that the document is meant to convey that fact to the Obama administration and Congress.

Industry officials are concerned, however, that discontinuing the program could backfire. Labor and environmental groups are pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop chemical security rules that are more stringent than the existing DHS regulations -- an effort one industry official says could be bolstered by a cancellation of the current DHS program.

“If you were to sort of move away from CFATS it might encourage EPA or some other entity to occupy that space,” Scott Jensen, director of issues communication for the American Chemistry Council, told GSN.

Bill Allmond, vice president of government relations for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates trade group, also suggested that canceling the DHS program would be bad for business.

“A lot of our companies have spent a lot of money to implement” the DHS initiative, Allmond said. “Industry [assisted] DHS in establishing these standards and … we are committed to ensuring what is currently required gets implemented.”

Allmond said the Heritage Foundation’s report was “full of assumptions, inaccuracies and contradictions” and, along with other industry officials, disputed the claim that the DHS regulations are unnecessarily demanding.

“Seventy percent of our members are small businesses and none of them have come to us and said CFATS is overly burdensome” or that “we should do everything on a voluntary basis,” Allmond said. “None of our members have suggested that.”

Similarly, Jensen, of the American Chemistry Council, said surveys have shown companies regulated under the DHS initiative are supportive of the current situation. “I think industry has been pretty clear,” he said.

Zuckerman, the Heritage Foundation author, defended her conclusions. Even if industry officials support the program and say that it is not burdening their businesses “it still doesn’t mean that its good policy,” Zuckerman told GSN.

“We’ve seen a lot of programmatic issues that really have made this overly burdensome on the private sector in our view at little added value to the security,” she said. Zuckerman said that she had spoken to industry officials who shared this view, but declined to identify them.

The DHS program has been under scrutiny since an internal report detailing a host of problems with the initiative was leaked to the media late last year. The reported issues included a failure by DHS officials to conduct inspections of chemical facilities that could be targeted by terrorists and to approve security plans submitted by the plants.

The Heritage Foundation paper references these and other implementation problems that have reportedly plagued the initiative. It notes that many of the issues are thought to be related to the Homeland Security Department’s “inability to adequately conduct hires, or to properly train those that it does hire within the CFATS program.”

Industry officials say they agree with the report’s assessment of the implementation problems with the chemical security program but argue that the suggestion that it be replaced with “common-sense, market-conscious policy solutions” is contradictory.

The report “gives little indication what these [solutions] would be, and it is hard to imagine because CFATS was intended precisely to be a simple, market-based approach,” argued James Conrad, a former security lawyer for the American Chemistry Council who now represents individual companies on chemical security matters.

According to Conrad, the “logical recommendation would be that DHS needs to fix its implementation,” rather than abandon the current regulatory framework.

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