Monday, January 5, 2009
More Discussion about Chemical Security Legislation
Over the last week or so there has been a steady stream of articles on ICIS.com written by chemical industry leaders about what they see coming in the upcoming 111th Congress. All of those articles have touched to some extent on the need to renew the current Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that are slated to expire in October of this year. They have all opposed to some degree mandatory inherently safer technology (IST) requirements in that legislation. Today we’ll look at an article on that site that specifically addresses the IST debate from the side of some advocacy groups. Strong IST Proponents The article notes that the current CFATS legislation was pushed through a Republican controlled Congress with a Republican President. This year those roles will be reversed. Many of the groups pushing for more controls, and IST in particular, are allies of the Democratic Party. The article notes particularly that the Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta, “who leads the Obama transition team and is likely to have a large role in the new administration”. Readers will remember that it is the CAP that is leading the current publicity campaign for IST with its publication of Chemical Security 101 earlier this year. HR 5577 Model The article frequently points to HR 5577 as the model for legislation in the upcoming Congress. The authors note that HR 5577 was held up by the Democrats last summer because it would be easier to pass in a Congress more dominated by the Democrats, and it would be less likely to be vetoed by a Democratic President. I’m not sure that Chairman Thompson would agree with that assessment. He was particularly incensed when Secretary Chertoff suggested that the passage of HR 5577 should be delayed. The article notes that the chemical industry opposed HR 5577 because of the IST provisions and the easing of the federal pre-emption rules. The pre-emption rules had already been changed as part of the provisions of the FY2008 Omnibus Budget Bill, so that actually was a non-issue by the time HR 5577 was reported to the Congress by the Homeland Security Committee. Though it was not noted in this article, there were other items in HR 5577 that the industry also objected to. These included provisions requiring union and employee participation in the security processes and whistleblower protections. Provisions that required redress procedures for employees that failed background investigations were also included in the HR 5577 requirements that the industry was not happy with. Extending the HR 5577 Model The article does note that there seems to be a push to extend the HR 5577 model to include some more aggressive provisions. The article notes that Greenpeace would like to see the IST provisions of HR 5577 extended to “to any chemical facility that puts 1,000 or more local residents at risk of attack consequences”. The article notes that this would jump the potential IST requirements from covering 200-300 facilities under HR 5577 to about 3,500 sites. This is slightly misleading since the bulk of the sites that Greenpeace includes in its figures are water treatment and waste water treatment plants that are exempted from the current CFATS processes. HR 5577 already extends coverage to those facilities. It isn’t clear if all of those treatment facilities would be covered by the HR 5577 IST requirements. HR 5577 would continue to allow the Secretary to set the standards for the selection and tiering of ‘high-risk chemical facilities’. It is not clear how Greenpeace would re-write the legislation to include all facilities that would put “1,000 or more local residents at risk of attack consequences”. Depending on how one defined ‘attack consequences’ the number of facilities that would be covered would be completely unmanageable. Political Discussion Being Dominated by IST Proponents This article was not written by IST proponents. It was apparently written by the staff at ICIS.com to balance the coverage provided by the earlier articles written by chemical industry representatives. This is certainly a legitimate and even proper way to report on issues; providing multiple view points on a complex discussion. This has not always been the way this issue has been covered in the popular press at the local level. With few exceptions it has not been because of an obvious bias on the part of newspapers or reporters. Generally the anti-IST views of the local industry have been missing from the coverage because of the refusal of the industry to talk about the issue. Usually this refusal has been reported as because the industry ‘does not discuss security or safety measures’. The chemical industry and its representative organizations are going to have to reverse this stand if they hope to get reasonable IST provisions included in a chemical facility security bill during the upcoming session of Congress. The political discussion is now being controlled by people that are actively pushing for very restrictive IST provisions that will be written by people with little knowledge of how industrial chemical processes are designed or controlled. The industry needs to engage in this political discussion at all levels. New Year’s Resolution Well, I do admit that I get a bit preachy at times. For example, how many posts now have included a blast at the chemical industry for botching the IST debate? Well, my New Year’s Resolution for this blog is to try to minimize my harping on single topics through multiple blog posts.