Monday, March 31, 2008

Farm Bill Contains Chemical Security Provisions

As the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 (HR 2419), commonly known as the ‘Farm Bill’, is nearing its final form. It seems strange to be talking about the Farm Bill on the Chemical Plant Security News Blog, but large bills like this can have strange provisions buried deep where no one notices. These strange provisions miss the scrutiny of the appropriate congressional committees and are often ignored when larger provisions attract all of the attention.


Back in November, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was proud of a provision that he had inserted into the bill that exempted propane from the DHS CFATS regulations. That provision is not in the version of the bill currently under consideration. There are, however, two other sections that deal with chemical security matters.


Section 11070 – Report on Stored Quantities of Propane


This section requires that the Secretary provides a report to Congress (to the Agriculture and DHS oversight committees in both houses) within 6 months (240 days) concerning the “possession of quantities of propane that meet or exceed the screening threshold quantity for propane” established in the CFATS regulations. That report will include


  • the number of facilities that completed a Top Screen that had at least an STQ amount of (60,000 pounds) of propane on site, and
  • the number of agricultural facilities that completed a Top Screen that had at least an STQ amount of (60,000 pounds) of propane on site, and
  • the number of propane facilities initially determined to be high-risk facilities, and
  • the number of propane facilities that submit an SVA, SSP or ASP, and
  • the number of propane facilities that file an appeal under the CFATS regulation, and
  • the average cost of completing a Top Screen, an SVA, and an SSP (including the cost of implementing an SSP).


Additionally, the Secretary is required, within 30 days, to “conduct educational outreach activities for rural facilities” that are required to complete a Top Screen for propane. The Secretary is authorized to use the “Food and Agricultural Sector Coordinating Council established under the national infrastructure protection plan” to complete the outreach program.


This is a major change from Senator Grassley’s earlier provision. It does required to Secretary to undertake yet another report to Congress, but Congress does have certain over-site responsibilities. Actually, there should probably be a number such reports for a wide variety of facilities that were included in the term ‘chemical facility’ under CFATS that most people do not consider to be chemical plants. And the chemicals concerned should not be limited to just propane.


While I agree with the wide net that DHS used on the initial assessment of the extent of risk for chemical terrorist attacks, it is entirely appropriate that that scope should be reviewed after the initial assessment is completed. If there were clearly-definable categories of facilities that completed Top Screens but resulted no facilities being designated as high-risk facilities, DHS should consider exempting that class of facilities from future considerations.


Section 12405 - Agricultural Chemicals Security Credit


This section provides for a tax credit to compensate for agricultural chemical security spending. The credit would be 30% of the allowable expenditures with a cumulative 5 year limit of $100,000 per facility or a yearly limit of $2,000,000 per taxpayer. The ‘per taxpayer’ limit is obviously written to benefit large agricultural businesses with multiple facilities. Such an agribusiness would have to have 100 facilities to be able to get $2M per year for all five years of the program.


The section provides a relatively extensive list of allowable expenditures. They range from completing background checks to implementing site security plans. The only real limit is that the costs must be directly related to the security of ‘specified agricultural chemicals’. The only ‘specified chemicals’ in the legislation are pesticides and fertilizers. There are no provisions for including security for fuels, propane, or anhydrous ammonia in calculating the credit.


Chemical security provisions of the CFATS regulations are going to cost high-risk chemical facilities a great deal of money. This section will help to off-set some of that cost for agricultural chemical facilities. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a high level of coordination between the Department of Agriculture and DHS involved in this legislation.


Final Version of HR 2419


The final version of HR 2419 has not yet been written. It is not unusual for complex bills such as this to have ‘minor, insignificant’ revisions added to them in the final wrangling of the legislative process. People are looking at, and fighting over, the larger provisions of the legislation. The right to add ‘minor’ revisions is frequently awarded in return for support of the over-all bill. It will be interesting to see what other changes are made that concern chemical security, particularly since agricultural interests have been the most vocal and effective opponents of CFATS.

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