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Dec. 11 — A four-year reauthorization of a Department of Homeland Security chemical security program, meant to protect the nation's industrial facilities against the risk of terrorist attacks, cleared the House by voice vote Dec. 11, capping off a feverish push at the end of this Congress to get the legislation done.
The bill (H.R. 4007) now heads to President Barack Obama. He is expected to sign the extension of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, as it has the strong backing of the Department of Homeland Security.
Further implementation of the CFATS program is estimated to cost $349 million over fiscal years 2015 to 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Facilities run by companies such as Dow Chemical Co., BASF SE, Exxon Mobil Corp. and DuPont are potentially subject to regulation under the program.
The Senate passed the legislation a day earlier, also by voice vote.
“Over the course of the past year, through multiple hearings and countless meetings, we've taken a long look at the CFATS program to develop a straightforward, practically minded piece of legislation to improve the program overall,” Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), sponsor of the House legislation, said on the floor. “We can ensure that proper measures are in place to secure the nation's vast network of chemical facilities and to keep our communities safe from harm.”
The House approved Senate modifications to the original version of the bill. Among the most consequential is establishment of an expedited security plan approval process for lower-risk facilities, which holds the Department of Homeland Security to strict deadlines in considering site security plans.
Additional changes limit facility worker involvement in the development of security plans for the sites and incorporate whistle-blower protections. The Senate version also grants the Department of Homeland Security authority to order an emergency shutdown for facilities, if the risk of a terrorist incident creates an “imminent threat.”
Passage of the legislation caps a multiyear battle by the Department of Homeland Security and the chemical industry to gain a long-term reauthorization of the program. They say the reauthorization will provide certainty to the regulated community and allow DHS to fully implement changes.
Originally authorized in Section 550 of the 2007 DHS Appropriations Act (Pub. L. No. 109-295), the CFATS program requires industrial facilities with certain threshold levels of chemicals to assess their risks and submit site security plans to the secretary for approval. Facilities then must take appropriate action to address their level of risk.
The program struggled during its early years with inappropriate staff hires, wasteful spending and inefficient approval of site security plans, but a new leadership team has significantly improved its operation.
The chemical industry, strongly supportive of the legislation, praised the congressional action and urged Obama to sign the measure into law expeditiously.
“We applaud Congress for coming together to pass a long-term solution for regulating security that will help create a stronger foundation for CFATS,” the American Chemistry Council said in a statement. “In addition to providing a more solid footing for the Department of Homeland Security to implement CFATS, the bill will help the Department improve its outreach to chemical facilities and the process for vetting personnel.”
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Text of H.R. 4007 as passed is available at https://www.congress.gov/113/bills/hr4007/BILLS-113hr4007eas.pdf.
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