Security professionals in the chemical industry have much to look forward to in the new Congress this year. Instead of facing sweeping new security standards as once proposed by the outgoing Congress, the industry can expect only small improvements to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards over the next two years.
In fact, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Peter King of New York, has already stated his commitment to making the existing CFATS program permanent "to give it a sense of real continuity." Following meetings with committee staff in January, it is clear to me that Mr. King remains a believer that government should not dictate what practices manufacturing facilities should take to reduce risk.
To underscore his belief, he appointed Republican Dan Lungren of California chairman of the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee, which will oversee any new CFATS legislation. Mr. Lungren is an author of the original legislation authorizing CFATS back in the mid-2000s when Republicans last controlled the House. More recently, he led the charge against the controversial inherently safer technology provision added by the Democrats in 2009. His arguments helped persuade some 20 Democrats to vote against a bill mandating IST. We can safely assume Congressman Lungren will want to make only cosmetic improvements to CFATS without strengthening the government's hand to mandate process-changing requirements like IST. We should expect a series of short-term extensions of CFATS until the committee has the opportunity to pass a longer-term extension of perhaps three years or more.
The legislative picture is less clear in the Senate at this point since Democrats still control that chamber. Senator Collins' bill introduced in early 2010 to extend the existing CFATS program for five years was in stark contrast to the process-changing, product-substituting bill passed in the House. Given the momentum behind the House bill after passage, no one gave Senator Collins' bill a chance of passing. If Vegas had put odds on it, the bill would have been a 100-1 long shot. However, not only did she find two prominent Democrats to co-sponsor her bill, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate committee. Though the bill never made it back to the Senate floor for full passage, Senator Collins may have won over several more colleagues longer term through her last-minute deal-making with Democratic members to ensure committee passage. No one should ever underestimate Senator Collins' ability to move legislation, even when the odds are against it. In fact, some Democrats are already signaling that they may support an IST-free bill again in this Congress.
My bet is on the possibility for compromise legislation that extends most of the current CFATS program with minor improvements to current parts of the law that have been problematic in implementation, such as personnel surety. The industry must be patient, however. Despite a more business-friendly Congress, we shouldn't expect the House and Senate to approve permanent reauthorization this year.
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William Allmond IV is Vice President of Government Relations for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA).