CHEMICAL SECURITY:

Subpanel passes bill to reauthorize DHS program, but partisan sniping awaits

Legislation that would reauthorize a Homeland Security Department program to secure the nation's chemical facilities from terrorist attacks passed out of a House Energy and Commerce subpanel easily yesterday, but Democratic discontent with Republican inflexibility in drafting the bill foreshadowed a bumpy road ahead.

In a voice vote, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy passed legislation (H.R. 908) that would reauthorize DHS's Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program as it exists now through 2017.

"While recent reports concerning the death of Osama bin Laden certainly close a major threat from 9/11, the war against terrorism is far from over and we should be no less resolved to defend ourselves from any future attacks -- including potential attacks on high-risk facilities with chemicals," said Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

The bipartisan legislation from Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Gene Green (D-Texas) re-ups the program as it exists now. CFATS, which was launched in 2006, runs out of money this year.

Murphy said the bill provides industry consistency.

"A long-term authorization will give the industry the certainty needed to make upfront capital investments and continue growing and succeeding," Murphy said. "Without this bill, companies will run the risk of making costly decisions today that might run afoul of new and confusing regulatory standards of tomorrow."

Shimkus offered the only amendment at the markup, which set a ceiling on the amount of money to be appropriated to the CFATS program at $89.92 million per year -- the current funding level for the program. The Shimkus amendment was also approved in a voice vote.

The vote was immediately applauded by the chemical industry, which support the CFATS program as it exists now.

"We commend Chairman John Shimkus along with Congressmen Gene Green and Tim Murphy for their leadership and thank the other members of the committee for their work to pass legislation that will help protect this vital sector of the nation's infrastructure and economy," American Chemistry Council President Cal Dooley, a former Democratic congressman from California, said in a statement.

But the bill was criticized by green groups that said the current CFATS program is insufficient and puts millions of Americans at risk.

"Instead of working to protect communities and workers from preventable chemical disasters, representatives voted today to give oil refiners and chemical companies exactly what they want -- business as usual," said Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace. "This bill leaves 100 million Americans at risk from preventable disasters at oil refineries and chemical plants."

Hind highlighted legislation recently introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that calls for a more comprehensive program (E&E Daily, April 1).

The subcommittee markup of the Murphy-Green bill puts it at the same stage in the legislative process as competing legislation from House Homeland Security Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). That bill (H.R. 901) would reauthorize the CFATS program for seven years and would take primary oversight jurisdiction over the program away from the Energy and Commerce Committee. Lungren's bill passed out of his subcommittee last month (E&E Daily, April 15).

Murphy has indicated that any jurisdictional issues between the two bills will likely be worked out between the committees (E&E Daily, April 15).

Trouble ahead?

But while the subcommittee markup went off without a hitch, there were signs of partisan struggles to come.

Green, one of the legislation's co-sponsors, implied in an interview that he has been disappointed with the Republicans' unwillingness to accommodate some of his concerns with the legislation. Green said Republicans have been more focused on the bipartisan optics of the legislation, rather than what the bill could accomplish.

"I was hoping with this bill we could legislate instead of just kick the can down the road for so long," Green said.

Green has raised concerns about including a provision to ensure the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards are sufficient identification for CFATS facilities. TWIC cards require expensive background checks for workers with access to port facilities that fall under the Maritime Transportation Security Act.

"I signed on to the undersigned bill with the understanding that the majority and minority would work together on these issues," Green said at the markup.

Shimkus indicated that he is confident they will come to "an agreement of some sort, perhaps not full agreement" on the issue before the bill goes to the full committee markup.

Green also told E&E Daily that he expects to offer other amendments even though they likely have a small chance of passing. One would limit the reauthorization to five years.

Another would require companies to sit down with their employees when developing security plans. That amendment sounds similar to one offered by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) during the markup of Lungren's bill. That amendment was defeated in a party line vote (E&E Daily, April 15).