At Senate Hearing, Chemical Industry Supports Security Rules

The testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on July 13 suggests the debate over the federal role in chemical plant security is no longer over whether to regulate it's now about how to regulate.

At the recent hearing, three representatives of the chemical industry expressed qualified backing for federal rules to combat the risk of a terrorist attack on chemical plants.

"There needs to be a federal role and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] should play that role," asserted Martin Durbin, managing director of security operations for the American Chemistry Council.

With this issue largely resolved, the panel spent much of its time exploring differences between business groups and others about the shape of the new rules. At the center of the discussion was whether the government should require companies to adopt inherently safe technologies (IST).

Representatives from Environmental Defense and the United Steelworkers Union and Gerald Poje, a former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, expressed support for new federal regulations, but they differed from the business representatives in calling for IST requirements.

Durbin, along with Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, and Matthew Barmasse, representing the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, presented a unified industry position on the shape of new federal regulations.

Industry wants federal standards that:

  • Are risk-based and performance-oriented;
  • Require vulnerability assessments and security plans;
  • Recognize voluntary efforts that have already been completed;
  • Give DHS enforcement authority;
  • Protect sensitive information.

Carol Andress of Environmental Defense called on Congress to mandate that facilities using large quantities of dangerous chemicals evaluate ways to switch to safer chemicals or processes, or reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals used and stored on site.

All three industry representatives explicitly rejected IST requirements.

"No federal program mandating IST will change how these processes are run in any significant way," contended Barmasse. Instead, Barmasse warned that such a program would mean governmental micromanagement of chemical plants, burdensome paperwork requirements and could also lead to the slowing of production and exodus of chemical production overseas.

Senators on the committee did not indicate during the hearing whether they had decided if IST requirements should be included in new rules.

Near the end of the hearing, however, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the committee, asked the non-industry panelists whether tough new risk-based security regulations for hazardous chemical plants would provide an incentive for them to switch to safer processes and substitutes.

"That may be true," replied Glen Erwin of the United Steelworkers Union.

Andress said that while she found the idea appealing, she was concerned it would potentially lead some fairly high-risk facilities to adopt a purely physical security approach.

"And I don't think that is enough, to just adopt physical security," she concluded.

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