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Chemical Plants Face Stricter Regulations

Posted: March 11, 2008

On Thursday, March 6, 2008, the House Committee on Homeland Security approved draft legislation that would extend and modify federal authority to regulate the security of U.S. chemical plants—a measure that, among other things, would require chemical plants to consider the use of "inherently safer technology (IST)." The legislation would also make permanent the interim chemical security regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in April 2007 with some changes. 

 The DHS rules require owners or operators of plants housing certain quantities of specified chemicals to complete preliminary screening assessments to determine the facilities' level of risk. Owners of facilities preliminarily qualified as high-risk have to prepare and submit assessments of vulnerabilities and site security plans. The legislation approved by the Committee contains a measure that would require owners or operators of covered facilities to include in their site security plans an assessment of methods to reduce risks, such as implementing safer processes and using safer chemicals, known as IST.

Of the DHS rules, the Joint Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Committee's (a joint project of FEMA and FMA) statement said, "While we agree that establishing a permanent federal regulatory framework for chemical security is important, the provision to require inherently safer technologies clearly would place DHS in the position of mandating chemical processes and products. This is unacceptable and will do little if anything to improve site security or deter terrorist acts."

The Committee also approved an amendment to require DHS to create a framework for conducting security background checks for employees at facilities facing the highest risk of terrorist attacks or Tier 1 facilities. The background check would screen those workers against federal criminal, immigration and terrorist databases and provide a redress process for employees who believe they were mistakenly fired or suspended based on their background check. 

The legislation must now be approved by the full House of Representatives. (Source: FEMA, FMA)