CFATS Program Called ‘Effectively Dead’ Due to Shutdown; Entire Staff Furloughed

By Anthony Adragna  

Oct. 9 --The chemical facility anti-terrorism program is “effectively dead” during the government shutdown because its authorization and funding have expired, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told Bloomberg BNA in an Oct. 9 statement.

Both the authorization and appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security's Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program lapsed Oct. 4 during the shutdown.

The department told Bloomberg BNA in a statement that all staff members related to the CFATS program have been furloughed.

“Chemical facilities should continue to comply with the requirements of CFATS, including continuing to comply with the existing and planned security measures in any approved Site Security Plan or Alternative Security Program,” the department added.

A Republican aide on the House Appropriations Committee told Bloomberg BNA the committee had attempted to renew the program's authorization in a previous short-term continuing resolution (CR) and said the DHS was attempting “some work-around solutions” in light of the lapse in funding and authorization.

Thompson, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the lapse in funding for the program “unconscionable” and urged immediate action to restore funding and authorization for the chemical security program.

“The Speaker needs to stand up for what is right and let the House vote on a clean CR that funds the entire government and renews authorization for CFATS,” Thompson said in his statement.

The program requires chemical companies to list chemicals of concern and prepare site security plans to reduce security risks at their facilities.

Rocky Program History

The CFATS program has had a rocky history since its inception in 2007.

Three House Republicans--Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.), Michael McCaul (Texas), and John Carter (Texas)--expressed concerns in July about extending the appropriations and authorization for the program in light of alleged inefficiencies.

Despite problems with approving site security plans and criticism of its management practices, the program recently has appeared to be operating more effectively.

DHS announced in September it had approved 253 site security plans and authorized 693 facilities, up sharply from the two security plan approvals and 73 authorizations it reported in September 2012 .

The implementation of two executive orders--one on cybersecurity (Executive Order No. 13,636) and one on chemical security (Executive Order 13,650)--also will be delayed because of the shutdown, the agency said.

“DHS may experience delays in delivering products by their original deadline as well as challenges in coordinating with stakeholders,” the agency said.

Chemical Safety Regulations

Under the chemical security order, the Labor Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency must update chemical safety regulations, convene a working group on chemical safety to improve coordination on risk management and emergency planning and boost interagency information sharing .

The agencies were scheduled to have updated policies and regulations by Oct. 31 under the chemical security executive order, but several events that were to inform the regulatory changes have been cancelled since the shutdown began.

Two listening sessions involving chemical makers, industry groups, environmental advocates and others were cancelled Oct. 1 due to the shutdown, as was a similar Region 2 meeting, according to notices of the cancellations.

Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace, said the shutdown would make it nearly impossible for the federal government to respond to a chemical disaster.

Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, said his agency has been forced to halt its investigation of the April explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer retail facility and warned it wouldn't be able to properly respond to any additional chemical accidents (see related story).

Executive Order

Despite the shutdown, Hind said the deadlines for completing work on the executive order shouldn't be dramatically affected.

“Given the fact that the EPA has prepared draft proposals on disaster prevention since 2002, we don't think the shutdown is a sufficient excuse for delaying the announcement of policies they are considering,” Hind told Bloomberg BNA. “If it does result in any delay, it should be no longer than the number of days missed during the shutdown.”

The American Chemistry Council, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates and the Agricultural Retailers Association were unavailable for comment.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan at jsullivan@bna.com