Thursday, May 28, 2009

Opposition to IST Comes from Different Directions

The political wranglings over the re-authorization of CFATS are starting to go much further a field than just SOCMA or AWWA. I ran across articles yesterday on sites as disparate at (a libertarian page) and (a agricultural site). The libertarians are predictably upset about too much government interference in commercial affairs, while the AG guys are worried about the loss of their farm chemicals because of potential IST restrictions on feed stocks for those chemicals.

While I acknowledge that from their relative perspectives they have legitimate concerns about some of the potential elements of CFATS re-authorization legislation, I am concerned about the level of information upon which they are basing their concerns. Both of these articles contain information that is either incorrect, or so twisted as to be unrecognizable. For example, in Steve Dittmer’s article on he writes:
“Now, however, Congress is threatening to change horses in midstream. The law authorizing all these risk and security measures in the chemical industry, the 'Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security Act,’ (CFATS) expires in September, 2009. But a new bill in Congress, expected to be a simple extension of the old authority, instead proposes to mandate the government to take a large measure of control over products and processes in the chemical industry, much like it has taken over leadership, compensation and control functions at some banks, insurance and auto companies.”
There are lots of details in that paragraph that are wrong; not lies, misinformation, or distortion; just mistakes in information. CFATS is the ‘Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards’ and has certainly never been an ‘Act’ or law. The current CFATS authorization expires toward the end of October, 2009. Now none of these errors make a hill of beans difference about the politics involved, but they do point to a poor understanding of some of the basic elements of the discussion. In the article the author quotes a letter from a ‘coalition of industry groups’:
“For example, last year’s 'Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act' could have caused disruptions of new federal security standards and reduced jobs in the short term, and in the long term weakened infrastructure protection and economic stability.”
Unfortunately, there are no facts or explanations to back up any of these claims, so they only serve to inflame and polarize the discussion. It is hard to support claims that HR 5577 would have disrupted new federal security standards when the legislation implicitly re-affirmed the existing rules while adding additional requirements. The inherently safer technology (IST) provisions of that rule were fairly narrowly written and could have only affected a very small percentage of the facilities covered under the existing regulations. The facilities over which it would have had the most impact, water treatment facilities, were exempted from the most stringent penalties and were probably never going to be actually covered in any case.

There are certainly contentious issues involved in this discussion. There are good, valid arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. The only way that this is going to be resolved in a constructive manner is for both sides to sit down, talk to each other, and work out a program that legitimately addresses all of the issues. Inflammatory language, name calling, and misrepresenting the facts are just going to ensure that nothing gets done and legitimate chemical security issues remain unaddressed.

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