WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday sought to assess the federal government’s efforts to strengthen the security of hundreds of chemical sites around the country and to chart a path forward to reduce the risk of widespread casualties should a site be attacked by terrorists.
At present, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversees the security of chemical plants through the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards, a program known as CFATS, whose authorization ends this year. The Administration is expected to submit legislation in the coming months to strengthen the current program.
At a hearing on the issue, Lieberman reviewed ways to strengthen the program.
“In a worst case scenario, a successful attack on a facility using toxic chemicals in a densely populated area – and we know these facilities exist – could put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” Lieberman said. “Although there was intense controversy over whether to begin a chemical security program at all – because of opposition to government regulation in this area – there now seems to be general agreement that CFATS is making a positive contribution to our national and homeland security and should be continued. So the question becomes should we improve it and, if so, how can we improve it as we extend it?”
The two most commonly cited ways to strengthen chemical site safety, he said, would be to include drinking and waste water facilities under federal security requirements, because they too pose high risks to surrounding communities, and to require sites to consider and possibly implement “inherently safer technology” (IST), which is the practice of using safer chemicals or processes to reduce risks. Lieberman supports both remedies.
“I believe it is important to look at these alternatives as part of a comprehensive security system, since they are the only foolproof way to defeat a terrorist determined to strike a chemical facility,” he said, referring to IST. “There are encouraging developments on this front. For instance, Clorox recently announced it will begin substituting high strength bleach for chlorine in its manufacturing process, a move that could greatly reduce the transport and storage of toxic chlorine gas in relation to its operations. I know some of my colleagues strongly oppose mandating even consideration of IST, so I look forward to engaging in that debate as we move forward.”
The House has passed a wide-ranging bill, H.R. 2868, which would place drinking and waste water plants under security requirements and require chemical plants to consider and perhaps implement IST. A Senate bill would reauthorize the current program, as is, for five years. Rand Beers, DHS Under Secretary in charge of the National Protection and Programs Directorate, said the Administration would submit its own chemical security bill to Congress in several months. Beers said the administration advocates including IST in the chemical security program, and requiring drinking and waste water facilities to meet similar security requirements.
In addition to Beers, witnesses at the hearing were Sue Armstrong, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection at DHS; Peter Silva, Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency; Darius Sivin, International Representative for the Legislative, Governmental, and International Affairs division of the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; Timothy Scott,
Chief Security Officer and Corporate Director of Emergency Services and Security at Dow Chemical, on behalf of the American Chemistry Council; and Stephen Poorman, International Environmental, Health, Safety, and Security Manager at Fuji Film, on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates.