DHS Proposes Security Rules for Chemical Plants

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is accepting public comments on what the agency is calling "an aggressive and comprehensive set of proposed regulations that will improve security at high-risk chemical facilities nationwide."

The regulations would require high-risk chemical facilities to assess their level of risk of terrorist attacks and, if necessary, submit to DHS and implement "site security plans" – or face stiff fines.

According to the agency, the proposed regulations are expected to be published this week in the Federal Register as an Advanced Notice of Rulemaking and will be available for public comment until Feb. 7.

"The consequences of an attack at a high-risk chemical facility could be severe for the health and safety of the citizens in the area and for the national economy," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "Congress has provided the department with a critical new authority to set performance standards that are both sensible and disciplined, allowing owners and operators the flexibility to determine an appropriate mix of security measures at their facility under our supervision and subject to our approval. We're grateful for this new authority, and we intend to implement it quickly and apply it aggressively."

The proposed regulations would require chemical facilities fitting certain profiles to complete a secure online risk assessment to assist in determining their overall level of risk. High-risk facilities then would be required to conduct vulnerability assessments and submit site security plans that meet the department's performance standards.

DHS would validate submissions through audits and site inspections, and would provide technical assistance to facility owners and operators as needed. According to the agency, performance standards would be designed to achieve specific outcomes, such as securing the perimeter and critical targets, controlling access, deterring theft of potentially dangerous chemicals and preventing internal sabotage.

Security strategies necessary to satisfy these standards would depend upon the level of risk at each facility, the agency said.

According to DHS, the proposed regulations provide chemical facilities with two "quick and simple" opportunities to challenge DHS if the agency turns down a site security plan. However, the agency's proposed rules also include stiff fines in the event of noncompliance. According to DHS, failure to comply with performance standards could result in civil penalties up to $25,000 per day, and egregious instances of noncompliance could result in an order to cease operations.

DHS Must Issue Regulations by April 4

According to DHS, most chemical facilities already have initiated voluntary security programs and made significant investments to achieve satisfactory security levels.

The Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007 granted DHS authority to regulate the security of high-risk chemical facilities and requires that the proposed regulations be issued by April 4. The proposed regulations consider immediate implementation at the highest-risk facilities, and a phased implementation at other chemical facilities that present security risks addressed by the statute beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2008.

The Advanced Notice of Rulemaking and information how to submit public comments are available at http://www.dhs.gov/xprevprot/laws/gc_1166796969417.shtm.

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