Chemical Bill Keeps Americans in Harm’s Way, Weakens National Security

On June 22, the House Homeland Security Committee approved H.R. 901, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security Authorization Act of 2011, which would extend the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) for another seven years.

Vulnerabilities to chemical infrastructure, including chemical plants and facilities, remain unaddressed by current law. An accident or terrorist attack at these plants could release large quantities of hazardous chemicals, killing or injuring thousands of people. H.R. 901, introduced on March 4 by Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA), fails to require safer and more secure chemical processes or any real disaster prevention for another seven years.

On several occasions, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has asked Congress for the authority to require the highest risk chemical plants to switch to safer alternatives to eliminate or reduce the consequences of an accident or terrorist attack.

Despite DHS's concerns, the committee approved a bill that:

  • Prevents DHS from requiring specific security measures;
  • Fails to require safer and more secure chemical processes;
  • Exempts thousands of potentially high risk chemical and port facilities, including "approximately 2,400 water treatment facilities and 400-600 port facilities, including 125 of 150 U.S. refineries"; and
  • Prevents plant employees from participating in assessing vulnerabilities and developing security plans.

In the June 22 markup, a few Democratic amendments were approved, out of more than 10 offered.  On a voice vote, the Committee passed an amendment, proposed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), requiring DHS to consider making background checks for other federal security programs sufficient for the CFATS program.  Additional amendments that were approved include: an amendment, proposed by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), requiring DHS to conduct an assessments of the impact of CFATS on jobs; and an amendment, proposed by Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY), calling for DHS to provide technical assistance to facilities that need help filing site security plans (SSP).

Of grave concern is that an amendment, proposed by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS.), to include water and wastewater facilities failed. This failure reflects a serious gap in chemical security regulation.

During the committee markup, Rep. Lundgren said, "It's not perfect," in reference to his own bill.

Seven Democrats broke rank, voting with the Republicans to approve H.R. 901. The final vote was 26-Yea 5-No.

The bill may now head to the House floor.

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