Wednesday, June 9, 2010

CFATS Legislative Outlook

Yesterday a kind reader pointed me at an interesting article at (American College of Environmental Lawyers). The article by Susan Cook looks at the possibility of CFATS re-authorization legislation passing this year and concludes that such passage is unlikely. Now readers of this blog will remember that I came to the same conclusion back in March when the Senate Homeland Security Committee decided to wait for a DHS draft of a bill before proceeding with consideration of such legislation. BP as an Incentive to Action Ms Cook does raise an interesting issue, noting that “the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could engender renewed interest in the earlier adoption of an IST provision which has been the subject of the greatest discussion”. She says that ‘one Greenpeace blog’ (no link provided) makes this particular claim. I guess the argument runs that since we can’t trust big oil companies (and by extension big chemical companies) to take appropriate safety precautions, we can’t trust them to take appropriate security precautions. Most of the Greenpeace supporters don’t need a new example to make them mistrust big oil/chemical companies; such mistrust is a hallmark of the beliefs of most environmental activists. While this current example may be a bit of a stretch, there are certainly enough other examples (more than a few from BP) that could be used to justify such beliefs. I certainly don’t think that the current BP fiasco will be a sufficient political incentive to get the CFATS bills moving. I agree with Susan that, unless there is “absent a major catastrophe on land or connected to a terrorist plot involving a chemical facility or refinery here in the United States” there will be no action taken on the CFATS authorization beyond extending it for another year in the DHS budget bill that has yet to be introduced. Post Election Action Actually, she says that such action “is not expected to occur until after the fall elections”. I’m not sure that the election can change much this year. If the Republican’s take control of the Senate and House (unlikely but possible) then they will almost certainly oppose consideration of any bill that would include a serious IST provision. Since the next action must take place in the Senate, it would almost certainly be a dead issue because of a Republican filibuster. If the Democrats get a stronger majority in the Senate (even more unlikely), then they would wait until the new Senators take their seats next year to proceed. With less of a possibility there would be a better chance for a more stringent IST provision to be included in the legislation. If the election is less decisive (a much more likely possibility) there will be much more pressure to consider something more of a middle road on the CFATS re-authorization issue. The two bills (HR 2868 and S 2996) currently before the Senate are nearly polar opposites in their treatment of IST and a number of other provisions. A more divided Congress may actually make it possible for a middle ground to be achieved on this issue. But that would still have to wait for the 112th Congress to become reality. The one thing that is clear is that Greenpeace is certainly doing their best to make the CFATS reauthorization and IST a political issue in this year’s election. It will be interesting to see how much this actually becomes part of the election debate in the coming months. If it does get some serious play, Greenpeace has positioned itself as a major voice defining the issue.

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