Thursday, January 20, 2011

House Energy and Commerce Committee on CFATS

Yesterday the website reported that “[c]hemical plant security standards” were on the agenda this session for consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That article also contained a link to a Committee document, “Backgrounders: Key Issues before the Committee on Energy and Commerce 112th Congress, First Session”.

On page 4 of that document under the ‘Environment and Economy Agenda’ the CFATS regulations are discussed. The document explains:

“Created in the Fiscal Year 2007 appropriations, CFATS sunsets in March 2011. Appropriations Acts have carried one year extensions for the past two years. Even though the program is not fully implemented, some in Congress and the Obama Administration support efforts to dramatically expand the CFATS program into non-security areas. We should highlight how the program has not yet been fully implemented and that expansion beyond security against terrorism could kill domestic investments and jobs. Any program extension should preserve the original focus on security against terrorism.”
The same section also addresses security issues at water facilities:

“As for the Bioterrorism Act, Title IV, enacted in 2002, we should only require water utilities to update and submit their vulnerability assessments and site security plans. Providing EPA regulatory authority could lead to a program that deviates greatly from the security mission authorized by Congress.”
Both of these policy statements are not much of a surprise given the Republican control of the House, and they appear to be fairly closely aligned with the opinions that Rep. King (R, NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has expressed on many occasions. I would expect that some sort of reauthorization legislation will pass relatively easy in the House as long as it doesn’t get lost behind other higher priority issues.

The question, of course, will be similar to last session, can a House passed bill make it through the Senate. The dynamic will be different this year in that there with the number of Republicans and Democrats very close. Controversial legislation could be stymied by a failure of either side to garner enough votes to close debate. Further complicating the issue is the debate on filibuster rules that was interrupted by the Senates long delay in coming back into session (they are not scheduled to return until next Tuesday).

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