Friday, July 29, 2011

SOCMA Looks at CFATS Legislation

Earlier this week Alexis Rudakewych, the Manager for Government Relations at SOCMA, had an interesting post on the SOCMA blog concerning the passage of a CFATS reauthorization bill this session. She included a very cogent analysis of the timing for passage of such legislation making the point that there is now just a very short window when it is politically possible for such legislation to be considered. This political calculation does not really look at anything but the calendar and the other issues that will occupy Congressional attention.

What’s interesting is that I made almost exactly the same points two years ago concerning the potential for Congress passing HR 2868. The main difference between then and now was that were still waiting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take up the legislation. A year ago I did a similar blog posting on HR 2868 waiting on Senate action, but had to include a discussion of the consideration of the upcoming election.

Oh, there is one other important difference, in both of those previous analyses one of the main forces leading the opposition to the CFATS legislation was SOCMA. To be fair, there were provisions in HR 2868 that SOCMA and most of the rest of the chemical industry thought would severely detrimental to the profitable operation of chemical facilities.

The point that I would like SOCMA to consider is that basically the same political tools that they and the rest of the chemical industry used last session to block passage of HR 2868 are being used by Greenpeace and the rest of the ‘blue-green’ coalition to oppose the passage of HR 901/HR 908/S 473 in this session. Political pressure is being applied to a relatively small number of Senators to prevent the consideration of the legislation.

In both cases action in the House is/was a foregone conclusion. The political party in clear power will/was able to overcome inter-Committee rivalries to bring legislation to the floor where it will/was able to easily pass. The rules in the Senate, however, allow a strong minority to block consideration of legislation where there is not a clear need for the legislation, in some form, to pass. With the safety valve of the one year extensions of CFATS in the Homeland Security appropriations bills there is no need for the Senate leadership to exert the political effort to force a CFATS authorization bill to the floor for a vote.

This year in the Senate there are probably enough votes from moderate Democrats to allow passage of one of the three industry favored CFATS bills if it came to an actual floor vote on the bill. It is also clear that the green lobby has enough votes to block such consideration; much the same way that last year the chemical industry had the votes to block consideration of HR 2868.

There is no reason to believe that this basic political calculus will change anytime soon. The country is ideologically pretty evenly divided. While we can expect to see periodic changes in the majority control in both Houses of Congress, it is unlikely that we will see a large enough scale change in the Senate to eliminate the minority’s ability to prevent consideration of legislation like the CFATS authorization. The legislation is just not important enough to the vast majority of Americans to make a fight to get it to the floor worthwhile.

The sad thing is that both sides of this controversy want to see CFATS succeed. Almost everyone agrees that there needs to be a formal Federal oversight over the management of security at high-risk chemical facilities. Everyone also pretty much agrees that the current annual extension of the CFATS program is not helping DHS effectively manage the program. Nor is it allowing industry to effectively manage their response to the program.

But, until whichever side currently has the political upper hand realizes that they are going to have to make some reasonable compromises with the opposition to get a CFATS authorization bill to the floor in the Senate, we will be stuck with the current appropriations reauthorization process.

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