Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reader Comment – 11-02-09 Debate

Yesterday’s blog posting on the on-line debate between Chairman Thompson and SOCMA VP Almond drew a quick response from Anonymous, but certainly a different Anonymous from Sunday’s posting. This Anonymous noted that: “The problem I have with IST and another provision(s) which gives the agency authority to (arbitrarily) add more chemicals to the list. So whatever GreenPeace wants, GreenPeace gets regardless if it's a smart or dumb move. They're the ones essentially writing this bill anyway. The pols don't fully appreciate what's in here.” Actually, the Republican legislation that originally authorized CFATS, the now nearly infamous §550 of the 2007 DHS appropriations bill, gave almost unlimited power to the Secretary. It gave the Secretary sole discretion in naming the chemicals of interest and establishing the rules that determined what chemical facilities were covered under CFATS. It still provides the Secretary with the authority to designate an individual facility a high-risk facility regardless of which chemicals are on-site. Of course, saying that the Secretary had 'sole discretion' is a bit of a misleading statement. Anyone that has been following the CFATS regulations through their formulation (like I have) well remember the fights over the coverage of propane (and how the Secretary ‘caved’ to political pressure from the agricultural community), of whether CFATS applied to agricultural facilities (and that ‘temporary’ exemption to the Top Screen rules is still in place), and of whether or not gasoline can form a vapor cloud explosion (and there is still an unofficial ‘temporary’ freeze on formally telling gasoline terminals that they are high-risk facilities). This is a representative republic and politics still controls how the Government operates In HR 2868 Congress has taken a lot of this authority back; not all of it, of course, but a lot of it. This means that groups like Greenpeace and the unions will have more affect on chemical regulations in general as long as the voters continue to return the Democrats to the majority in Congress. When the Republicans inevitably (sooner or later) come back into favor, then business interests will have more influence. This is the way a representative democracy works. The whole time, of course, the career employees of DHS continue to slog through the daily issues of writing and enforcing regulations. Potentially the most important part of HR 2868 was the creation of the Office of Chemical Facility Security. This section (§2114) creates a career level Director of that office and specifies the qualifications for that office. This removes a lot of the daily political (business or environmentalist) influence from the enforcement of these regulations. According to §2114(b) this new director must have “a demonstrated knowledge of physical infrastructure protection, cybersecurity, chemical facility security, hazard analysis, chemical process engineering, chemical process safety reviews”. No where do I see a requirement for membership in Greenpeace, but even the environmentalists would agree that these would be appropriate requirements for someone overseeing chemical facility security. So, the Republic moves on.

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