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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chemical Facility Security: Issues and Options for the 112th Congress

Dana A. Shea
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has statutory authority to regulate chemical facilities for security purposes. The 112th Congress has extended this authority through October 4, 2012. The Obama Administration has requested a one-year extension of this authority until October 4, 2013. Congressional policymakers have debated the scope and details of reauthorization and continue to consider legislation establishing an authority with longer duration. Some Members of Congress support an extension, either short- or long-term, of the existing authority. Other Members call for revision and more extensive codification of chemical facility security regulatory provisions. Questions regarding the current law’s effectiveness in reducing chemical facility risk and the sufficiency of federal funding for chemical facility security exacerbate the tension between continuing current policies and changing the statutory authority.

Congressional policymakers have questioned DHS’s effectiveness in implementing the authorized regulations, called chemical facility anti-terrorism standards (CFATS). The DHS finalized CFATS regulations in 2007. No chemical facilities have completed the CFATS process, which starts with information submission by chemical facilities and finishes with inspection and approval of facility security measures by DHS. Several factors, including the amount of detailed information provided to DHS, effectiveness of DHS program management, and the availability of CFATS inspectors, likely complicate the inspection process and lead to delays in inspection. Policymakers have questioned whether the compliance rate with CFATS is sufficient to address this homeland security issue.

Key policy issues debated in previous Congresses contribute to the current reauthorization debate. These issues include the adequacy of DHS resources and efforts; the appropriateness and scope of federal preemption of state chemical facility security activities; the availability of information for public comment, potential litigation, and congressional oversight; the range of chemical facilities identified by DHS; and the ability of inherently safer technologies to achieve security goals.

The 112th Congress might take various approaches to this issue. Congress might allow the statutory authority to expire but continue providing appropriations to administer the regulations. Congress might permanently or temporarily extend the statutory authority to observe the impact of the current regulations and, if necessary, address any perceived weaknesses at a later date. Congress might codify the existing regulations in statute and reduce the discretion available to the Secretary of Homeland Security to change the current regulatory framework. Alternatively, Congress might substantively change the current regulation’s implementation, scope, or impact by amending the existing statute or creating a new one. Finally, Congress might choose to terminate the program by allowing its authority to lapse and removing funding for the program. This last approach would leave chemical facility security regulation to the discretion of state and local governments.

Both appropriation and authorization legislation in the 112th Congress address chemical facility security. P.L. 112-74 extended the existing authority until October 4, 2012. Both FY2013 homeland security appropriations bills (S. 3216 and H.R. 5855, as passed by the House) would extend the existing authority until October 4, 2013. Authorizing legislation includes H.R. 225; H.R. 901, reported as amended by the House Committee on Homeland Security and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; H.R. 908, reported as amended by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; H.R. 916; H.R. 2890; S. 473, reported as amended by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; S. 709; and S. 711.

Date of Report: August 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: R41642
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