Monday, November 2, 2009
HR 2868 Debate
There have been a number of point-counter point discussions in the press about the chemical security legislation currently being considered by Congress. The latest in this call-response exchange was seen last week on TheHill.com a congressional blog forum. The initial comment came from Chairman Thompson, who provided a concise explanation of the reasons that his Committee has been pushing the inherently safer technology provision in HR 2868. The response to this message came from Bill Almond, a vice president for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA). Bill Almond does make an interesting point when he raises the issue that no one has identified a credible threat against any chemical facility in the United States. Other than a general call for attacks on the fuel supply system across the world, there has been no mention in any public discussion of intelligence that there has been a credible threat against any chemical facility. There are two major problem with this point of view. First, before 9/11 there was no credible threat that anyone would use an airliner to attack the Pentagon or the White House; even the attack on the Twin Towers was only generally presaged by the earlier truck bomb attacks on the basement. The second point is that by the time an intent to attack chemical facilities is uncovered, it would be far too late to take reasonable security precautions to protect the large number of potential targets. While there are certainly problems with legislating inherently safer technology, I continue to be disappointed in the disingenuous arguments used by SOCMA that claim that the IST mandate in this bill will cripple the pharmaceutical industry. The way that the IST assessment – implementation requirement is written into HR 2868 gives the pharmaceutical industry a free pass on the issue; all they have to do is note that they cannot change their current process without extensive, costly research that must ultimately be approved by the FDA before DHS can even get a chance to rule on its security implications. Of course, Chairman Thompson’s comments are not without their own hyperbole. He notes, in his discussion of water and waste treatment security, that the Obama Administration “directs the EPA to work with DHS to implement a chemical security program that leverages the CFATS program”. While that testimony was received in recent hearings, there is nothing in the language of Title II or Title III of HR 2868 that directs such action; just vague wording suggesting that EPA consult with DHS in setting the risk based performance standards. I will say that I am pleased to see that this discussion, while not always entirely accurate in their discussion of the details, has been about issues and not personalities. Hyperbole and exaggeration are frequently, and perhaps inevitably, well used tools of political discourse. At this point, the discussion has not descended into attacks that impugn the motives of the other side, so I suppose we can excuse the other excesses.