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Chemical Security Bill Passes House; Democrats Eye Changes in Senate

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

An April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas destroyed this playground across the street, along with many homes. Lawmakers cited the disaster in floor debate on chemical-security legislation that the House ultimately passed on Tuesday. An April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas destroyed this playground across the street, along with many homes. Lawmakers cited the disaster in floor debate on chemical-security legislation that the House ultimately passed on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The House passed a bill that would extend the life of a controversial chemical security program on Tuesday, but some Democrats are hoping a Senate version expected later this month will enable tougher rules.

The House bill, H.R. 4007, would authorize the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards of the Homeland Security Department for three years. The program, which is meant to prevent terrorists from using industrial sites in the United States for creating massive explosions, has previously been renewed annually through the congressional appropriations process.

Proponents of the bill -- including DHS officials, industry leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- say the legislation is needed in order to provide the program with stability that they say will make it more effective and provide companies with regulatory certainty.

Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said on the House floor Tuesday that the bill, which the lower chamber ultimately approved by voice vote, was a "good start." There is "more work to be done," however, Thompson said.

Before final legislation reaches the president's desk, lawmakers should add provisions to protect whistleblowers raising chemical-security concerns, along with language that would mandate consulting with workers during the development of site-protection plans, Thompson said.

Lawmakers also must address the fact that the current bill does not include so-called inherently safer technology provisions that would give DHS officials the authority to require specific safety and security upgrades in certain cases, said Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Industry opposes such provisions, but they are favored by labor unions and environmentalists.

Thompson also expressed disappointment that an exemption for water treatment facilities would continue under the current bill, but said the legislation's requirement that the department conduct an assessment of the chemical security risks that such facilities pose was a step in the right direction.

Along with other Democrats, Thompson said he would try work with senators to make changes to the bill.

Representative Patrick Meehan (R-Penn.), said he expected that the Senate Homeland Security could mark up a companion bill this month. Meehan is chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies that initially approved the House bill.

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