Saturday, May 1, 2010
New CFATS Bill in House
Earlier this week, Rep. Dent (R,PA) introduced HR 5186, the Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act of 2010. This legislation would extend the current CFATS authorization until 2015 and add provisions to provide for both a chemical security training program and a chemical security exercise program under FEMA. All three provisions are identical to those found in S 2996, making this a ‘companion bill’ in the House. Little Chance for Consideration The purpose of companion bills is to allow committee work and floor votes to move forward in both houses of Congress at the same time. This would thereby reduce the amount of time that might take a controversial piece of legislation to wend its way through the political process. Dent’s bill is unlikely to receive committee consideration since both committees that it has been referred to (Homeland Security, and Energy and Commerce) have already passed HR 2868, which already addresses the issue of the status of CFATS. If there had been a Democrat co-sponsor, particularly a committee or subcommittee chair (and there are no co-sponsors), I would have given the bill some chance for consideration. There has been one Congressman that has expressed regret for his support for HR 2868 because of the slow pace of ISCD’s inspections of high-risk chemical facilities. That is hardly a ground swell of changing opinions on what is necessary for the CFATS program. Since there will almost certainly be a one-year CFATS extension in the Homeland Security Budget bill that should be introduced shortly, it is extremely unlikely that a five year extension will receive active consideration at this time. No Movement in Senate Besides which, there is no sign that there is any serious potential for movement on S 2996 in the Senate. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Operations Committee took a pass on deciding between considering S 2996 and HR 2868, electing to wait instead for the DHS draft language for a CFATS reauthorization bill. That essentially killed any chance for passage this year because of the quickly approaching summer recess and the following election season. We are still expecting at least one more ‘comprehensive chemical security bill’ to be introduced in this session. Sen. Lautenberg has been promising such a bill since last November when HR 2868 was delivered to the Senate. Given his past chemical security history, I would expect that the compromises that were made in the HR 2868 language in the House would essentially be erased in his proposed legislation. Stronger language on IST mandates and specifically providing for States to set higher security standards would be key points of a Lautenberg bill. Budget Problem One thing could upset all of this careful reasoning, the failure to include CFATS extension language in a budget bill. There have been some rumors that the Democrats might not try to write individual budget bills this year, going instead with a relatively non-controversial omnibus bill. This reflects concerns about the growing deficit and the inevitable attacks the Republicans would make on the campaign trail on votes on budget bills. Limiting the budget to a single bill would limit the attacks. A CFATS extension might miss making it into such a bill. The size of the CFATS program is small and it is relatively ‘unimportant’ to most members. I don’t think that this would happen, but it is always a possibility.