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December 17, 2007
Volume 85, Number 51
p. 8

Facilities

House Examines Chemical Plant Security

Industry wants Congress to give DHS regulations a chance

Glenn Hess

AN INDUSTRY security expert last week urged lawmakers who are tracking chemical plant security to give the Department of Homeland Security and the nation's chemical manufacturers an opportunity to fully implement existing DHS regulations to protect plant sites from terrorist attacks before making big changes.

Glenn Hess/C&EN
Stephan (front) tells House subcommittee that current chemical plant security regulations are tough and balanced.

"Companies need to know that the requirements are not going to be changing in midstream. Completely rewriting those requirements will create massive uncertainty and could delay security enhancements," said Clyde D. Miller, director of corporate security for BASF.

Miller joined government officials and a union representative in testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Transportation Security & Infrastructure Protection, which is tracking the progress of chemical plant security regulations DHS issued on April 2.

By law, those DHS regulations expire in October 2009, and Congress is laying the groundwork for legislation next year to make the plant security rule permanent. But a draft chemical plant security bill floated by House Democrats is raising concerns in the chemical industry.

Among other things, the bill would require facilities designated as "high risk" to adopt inherently safer technologies (IST), such as using smaller quantities of toxic substances or lowering operating temperatures. Currently, DHS cannot mandate IST.

Miller said a mandate to consider IST would convert the security program "largely into a paper exercise." He asked: "Does Congress want DHS staff reviewing three-ring binders or out in the field inspecting actual security measures being implemented at facilities?"

Col. Robert B. Stephan, DHS assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, told the panel that the current regulations are sufficiently protective. He also noted that DHS has the authority to impose heavy fines and even shut down noncompliant facilities.

However, Gerald Setley, vice president of the International Chemical Workers Council, called the existing chemical security program "woefully inadequate" and said major changes should include an IST requirement and explicit language allowing states to craft antiterrorism programs that go beyond the federal standards.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), subcommittee chairwoman, said some "improvements" may be needed in the current law, but she doesn't foresee a complete overhaul. "We do not want to reinvent the wheel, and we believe that the fundamental approach taken by DHS is the correct one."

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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