WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today unanimously approved a bipartisan bill, authored by Ranking Member Susan Collins, to extend the current federal law governing security at America’s chemical facilities for three years, ensuring that a significant homeland security vulnerability continues to be addressed.
The "Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act" would re-authorize the law that is now set to expire in October, avoiding any gaps in security. This program requires that high-risk chemical facilities comply with federal security standards.
"Chemical facilities are tempting targets for terrorists," said Senator Collins. "The Department of Homeland Security has done a remarkable job developing a comprehensive chemical security program, creating the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. Although it is not even four years old, it has yielded a successful collaborative, risk-based security framework – providing a model for other security-related programs.
"While the Department has strong authority under the law to shut down non-compliant facilities, the key to this risk-based approach is that it makes the owners and operators of chemical plants partners with the government. The roles under the law are clear: the federal government sets requirements but recognizes that owners and operators of facilities are in the best position to design appropriate security measures to meet those requirements for their facilities."
The original law, signed in October 2006, authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security for the first time to set such security standards to help prevent a terrorist attack. Under the law, DHS assesses chemical facilities and assigns them to one of four tiers based on their risk. The facilities then have to meet the security standards associated with that tier."
In February, Senator Collins introduced a plan to extend CFATS; she was joined in that effort by Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), George Voinovich (R-OH) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
Following today’s unanimous committee vote, Senator Voinovich said: "Over the past six years, we’ve invested time and resources in improving security at our nation’s chemical facilities. This much-needed bill extends the current authorization, which includes an innovative risk-based framework that gives chemical plants incentives to adopt technologies based on their needs. We have a long way to go before the 2006 legislation is fully implemented, as the first site inspections for our nation’s highest risk facilities began in March. Changing the program’s requirements midstream is unfounded, unwise and premature."
Said Senator Pryor: "Today marked a major step forward in the effort to continue protecting the nation’s chemical facilities and our national security. I want to thank and congratulate Senators Collins and Lieberman for reaching across party lines and crafting a compromise that received unanimous support. This bipartisan effort will help ensure that our chemical resources never fall into the wrong hands."
Said Senator Landrieu: "Chemical manufacturers, including those in Louisiana, have made great strides in strengthening security around their plants to guard against a possible terrorist attack. This bill would give these companies the regulatory certainty and guidance to continue making those important investments. The Committee approving this legislation today is an important first step, and I urge the Senate to consider it as quickly as possible."
In making her bill’s case to the full committee today, Senator Collins stressed the chemical industry’s pivotal place in the nation’s economy and its role in advancements and innovations in critical fields such as science, technology, agriculture, medicine and manufacturing. "That is why it is critical that we enable the Department to continue this important work. The partisan legislation passed by the House of Representatives would unwisely bring this progress to a halt."
The House measure would scrap the current CFATS program and allow the government to mandate specific security measures for privately owned chemical facilities. This, Senator Collins said, would eliminate the collaborative partnership that has developed between the federal government and the owners/operators of chemical facilities. The Collins’ proposal would continue the CFATS program, which has been a clear success story, with a proven track record.
"During the past three years, chemical facilities have dedicated countless hours to their top-screens, security vulnerability assessments, and site security plans. As a result, security at our nation’s chemical facilities is much stronger, and improving all the time."