Wednesday, February 27, 2008

House Hearing on Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008

The full House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing yesterday concerning a ‘committee print’ of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008.  A committee print is an informal draft of a bill that has not yet been introduced. According to Chairman Thompson’s prepared statement:


“I decided to use the vehicle of a Committee Print rather than an introduced bill because of the flexibility it offers us. This way, every time we hear a good idea on how to make the legislation better, we can incorporate it.”


DHS Update on CFATS Implementation


Assistant Secretary Robert Stephan’s testimony included an update on the progress on the implementation of the CFAT regulation that went into effect last June. He reported that as of the January 22nd deadline to complete the Top Screen there was a total of 24,891 facilities that had completed their Top Screen submission and about 7,800 facilities that had requested an extension of that deadline.


That means that about 32,600 facilities are in compliance with this stage of the CFATS program. This is significantly short of the 40,000+ facilities that DHS had estimated would be required to submit Top Screen information. Of course there is an unreported number of agricultural facilities that have been given an indefinite extension of time to complete their Top Screens.


According to Col Stephan’s testimony this reported number of Top Screen submissions includes the facilities that completed their Top Screen as part of the Phase I implementation in June of last year. Interestingly he said that:


“Those Phase 1 facilities determined to be high-risk will receive written notification from the Department informing them of the Department’s determination and instructing these facilities on their requirements to complete a Security Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) for departmental review.”


I added the Italics. This wording seems to indicate that these facilities have not yet started their SVA submissions. I believe that this is because DHS has not yet gotten their SVA site up and working on their secure CSAT web site. Of course, the DHS FAQ page still maintains that only those facilities registered on CSAT will be able to see the SVA information so I cannot be sure that this is the case.


I will disappointed if we do not get a chance to see what types information DHS will require facilities to submit for their SVA’s. I understand and support the need for DHS to protect the information submitted by facilities. I understand and support the need for DHS to protect the methodology that they use to evaluate those submissions. I do think, however, that DHS owes it to the American public in general, and those people living near high-risk facilities specifically, to allow us to see and critique the types of information that they are using to make their decisions.


Agricultural Chemicals and CFATS

Secretary Stephan commented briefly on the agricultural exemption for the Top Screen. He noted that DHS was working with the agricultural community on this issue. The objective is to see if any changes are needed to the Top Screen to adequately address the differences between agricultural chemical users and other chemical facilities.

He also included a discussion about the upcoming rules for regulating the sales of ammonium nitrate. Congress provided fairly detailed guidance in the 2008 budget bill (see: “DHS and the Omnibus Spending Bill”), but lots of work needs to be done to iron out the details. He said that DHS was working with other government agencies to insure that there would be minimal conflicts between various rules.


CFAT Act of 2008 and Inherently Safe Technology


One of the controversial aspects of the draft legislation is the requirements for high-risk facilities to look at reducing their risk by implementing inherently safe technology (IST) (see: “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act of 2008 Markup”). In this hearing the Committee invited two witnesses with some experience looking at IST in their facilities. According to Chairman Thompson’s statement;


Dr. Pulham {Siegfried (USA) Inc} is here to help us understand the impact of the chemical security legislation on smaller facilities, as well as tell us how his facility is complying with the State of New Jersey’s chemical security requirements.”


“And Mr. Wattier (Long Beach Water Department) is here to give us the feedback from a water facility about the legislation—especially given that it would subject water facilities to the same chemical security framework as is in place for all other chemical facilities.”


Dr Pulham made two points; first, the New Jersey rules were more of a paperwork exercise than anything else and second, chemical companies look at IST as a mater of course in their process development procedures. On the later he said: “Simply put, inherent safety is a concept that the chemical industry invented, and we consider it continuously as we design and modify our production processes.”


Mr Wattier reported on his department’s implementation of IST; replacing their chlorine injection system with one using chlorine produced on site. This will avoid having large storage tanks of chlorine gas on site and reduce the transport of chlorine significantly. He made the point that “Any consideration of alternative technologies must include assurances that maintain reliability of water systems, as well as the flexibility needed to enable water treatment operators to adhere to strict Federal and State water quality standards.”


As I mentioned in more detail in my other blog today (see: “Blog Comments – A late reply”) water treatment facilities are in a particularly bad position to implement alternate treatment technologies to reduce their risks. They have thin margins and are frequently required to go to the voters to seek approval for funding. Mr Wattier makes the following point in his testimony:


I would propose the Committee amend its current draft to include an authorization of appropriations for voluntary integration of technologies that reduce or eliminate the risk posed by transport and storage of containerized gaseous chlorine. Federal participation in voluntary demonstration scale projects of this type would have a profound impact on the United States water treatment industry.”


The question of financing IST implementation or even the costs of security measures has been largely overlooked in these discussions. One thing that has not been said in public, but has almost certainly been said in boardrooms, if the costs are too high, we can expect to see more chemical facilities in this country close and their production move off shore. This would probably make some environmental extremists happy but would not provide a service to citizens of this country.


Anonymous said...

When discussing the cost of implementing IST, you commented that "if the costs are too high, we can expect to see more chemical facilities in this country close and their production move off shore." Rep. Dent tried poorly to make that point, but Mr. Wattier answered his question by saying that the switch from chlorine gas to just in time bleach was a one time cost of $3 million out of a $100 million per year budget, which he considered to be very inexpensive (certainly less than the cost of building an offshore facility).  Rep. Jackson Lee asked Dr. Pulham if there had been any companies that had left New Jersey based on the tougher rules there, and he admitted that they had not, nor were they likely to, to his knowledge.

You also state that environmental extremists would like to see chemical facilities move offshore.  While I'm sure there are some people like that (and some that wish they would just disappear), reasonable people know that thousands of workers depend on these jobs in every state in the country.  No one wants to see them jobless. Also, IST has the support of the labor unions (UAW, UFCW, which includes the Chemical Workers Union, and others) who don't like to see their workers jobless.

Anonymous said...

I partly agree that funding has largely been overlooked. The phrase "unfunded mandate" is sure to make its way into upcoming language.  However, I'd like to make a couple points about funding.  Of the hundreds of facilities across the country who have implemented IST, 1/3 expect to save money, 1/2 expect to even out, and more than half will spend less than $1 million to make the switch.  Water facilities are likely in the best position to make changes, because, if they are required to spend more money by the federal government, they will thus be allowed to raise prices.  Since companies like Blue Plains Water Treatment were able to pay for their changes by raising prices 50 cents per customer per year, I doubt most water facilities will be hearing a public outcry.

Furthermore, I would like to know why you think the intentional loopholes are insufficient.  If a company indeed cannot afford to make the change, based on economic reasons or those of feasibility, they don't have to. You seem to believe that that is not enough, and I'd like to hear your reasoning.

Lastly, I'd like to point out an article on ozonation:

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