Saturday, May 3, 2008

Alternative to HR 5577

Another thing that I learned from the Greenpeace interview from HSToday.US article that I wrote about yesterday (see: “Chemical Security Legislation Influenced by Lobbyists”) was that there has been an alternative offered in the House to HR 5577. The bill, HR 5533, introduced by

Representative Albert Wynn, then a sub-committee chairman of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Sub-committee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, makes the Section 550 authority for CFATS permanent.


Dead Legislation


There are undoubtedly many in the chemical industry that would see HR 5533 as a preferable alternative to the more comprehensive HR 5577. If it were a viable alternative, it might be worth discussing in depth, but this is a bill that was dead before it was introduced. There are a number of things working against this bill, not the least of which is the fact that the sole sponsor has announced that he is resigning from Congress in June of 2008 to become a chemical industry lobbyist (page 7 of Greenpeace report).


The second problem was that the bill was assigned to the Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration instead of the Homeland Security Committee. Since this bill modifies the Homeland Security Act, the Homeland Security Committee would normally be considered the primary committee to consider actions on the bill. The fact that it was not assigned to that committee for consideration signals that the leadership has no intention of bringing this bill to the floor.


The third problem is that since the bill was assigned to the Energy and Commerce Committee in early March, and then assigned to the Environment and Hazardous Materials Sub-committee, nothing has been done on the legislation; no hearings have been held, no mark-ups have been scheduled. This is an indication that even the leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee knows that this bill is dead.


The fourth problem is that Representative Wynn was the Chairman of the sub-committee and has since resigned that position. No replacement has been named. This makes assignment to that sub-committee even more of a dead end for legislation.


Potential for Re-birth?


With all of that said, I will continue to track this bill for any signs of re-birth. The reason is that if the Chemical Facilities Anti-terrorism Act of 2008 fails to move to the floor this summer there will be almost no chance of passing a chemical facility security bill before the current authorization for CFATS runs out in October of 2009. The Democratic leadership could decide that re-authorizing CFATS would be better than allowing it to lapse.


A clear sign of that decision having been made would be the re-assigning of HR 5533 to the Homeland Security Committee. While Chairman Thompson has made clear his strong support for HR 5577, I’m sure that he would support an extension rather than let the current law expire. I would expect modifications to HR 5533 to make it an extension of the current authority rather than making that authority permanent; probably a one year extension.


Once again, as I have mentioned before, if the election proceeds as it looks now, the 111th Congress would probably be more likely to pass more restrictive legislation than could be passed in the 110th. If the chemical industry thinks that avoiding having HR 5577 pass this year will be in their best interest, they might want to reconsider.

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