Secure Water, Chemical Bills Aim to Protect Facilities; SOCMA Objects

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced a comprehensive legislative package on July 15 that is designed to help prevent debilitating terrorist attacks at America’s chemical, drinking water, and wastewater facilities. This legislation requires plants to assess their vulnerability and develop plans to address those vulnerabilities, and requires the highest-risk facilities to put in place Inherently Safer Technology (IST) to increase public and environmental safety.
The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) expressed strong concern over the bill, which mandates that chemical facilities switch to so-called safer chemicals or processes in a misguided attempt to safeguard such critical infrastructure from a terrorist incident.

According to Lautenberg, the Secure Water Facilities Act and Secure Chemical Facilities Act would require changes for the highest-risk facilities, preventing undue burdens on small, low-risk facilities while protecting against the greatest threats. Some of the changes that can be implemented at water and chemical plants include reducing the amount of lethal gases stored on-site or minimizing the use of dangerous chlorine gas.

The bills would:

  • Require the chemical and water facilities to assess their vulnerability to attack, develop a plan to address those vulnerabilities and respond to an emergency, and provide worker-training to carry out the plan.
  • Require facilities using dangerous chemicals to evaluate whether the facility could reduce the consequences of an attack by, for example, using a safer chemical or process. The facility must implement those safer measures if it has been classified as one of the highest-risk facilities, implementation of safer measures is feasible, and implementation would not increase risk overall by shifting risk to another location.
  • Protect sensitive security information from disclosure, while ensuring information sharing between state and local governments, first-responders, and workers.
  • Allow communities to have a role in ensuring local facilities comply with these regulations.
  • Authorize grants to help defray the cost of assessing vulnerabilities, developing security and response plans, and implementing safer measures.

Since 2001, hundreds of chemical and water facilities have already switched to safer and more secure chemicals or processes, eliminating risks to millions of people. A recent survey by the Center for American Progress identified 554 drinking water and wastewater plants in 47 states that have increased security by replacing extremely hazardous substances with safer chemicals or processes, eliminating risk to 40 million people. However, companies are not required to consider these alternatives, and therefore many have not. Lautenberg’s legislative package would build on these achievements and increase safety at both chemical and water facilities nationwide.

The bills are endorsed by a broad coalition of 88 environmental, health, and labor groups.

Similar legislation, the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009, H.R. 2868, was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 6, 2009.

SOCMA said the Secure Chemical Facilities Act was introduced just days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano praised the department’s existing standards now being implemented by chemical facilities through the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

Speaking at the Chemical Sector Security Summit on July 7, Napolitano underscored the importance of the current program's common-sense performance standards to help protect individual facilities against threats without compromising their unique operational characteristics or efficiency.

“Senator Lautenberg’s bill runs counter to the Secretary’s emphasis on a balanced approach to the existing CFATS program,” said Lawrence D. Sloan, SOCMA president and chief executive officer. “SOCMA appreciates the bill’s attention to the impact of its controversial provision, better known as inherently safer technology (IST), on small chemical facilities. However, IST is obviously not a common-sense mandate.”

“This legislation follows the same partisan approach as the House to alter a comprehensive chemical security standard, now being successfully implemented to protect American workers and communities in which chemical facilities operate,” Sloan continued.

“Senator Lautenberg is casting aside bipartisan efforts already put in place by fellow Democratic colleagues to ensure that the existing security standards, set to expire soon, continue to protect chemical facilities from terrorist attack,” added Bill Allmond, SOCMA’s vice president of Government Relations. “While intending to protect chemical facilities against attack, this bill takes aim at the manner in which the U.S. manufactures chemicals, which has the potential to alter common goods that Americans rely on every day.”

The legislation is flawed, SOCMA said, because it mandates implementation of a process safety concept — not a security measure — a clear definition of which cannot be agreed upon by experts and which cannot be measured. Academia and industry experts alike have repeatedly testified against mandating IST, yet this bill ignores those warnings.

SOCMA said the best path forward is supporting the Senate’s bipartisan bill, S. 2996, to extend the existing comprehensive chemical security standards.

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