CHEMICAL SECURITY:

Energy and Commerce panel postpones markup of DHS reauthorization bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday postponed its markup of legislation that would reauthorize a Homeland Security Department program to secure the nation's chemical facilities against terrorist attacks.

Legislation from Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Gene Green (D-Texas) to reauthorize DHS's Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program through 2017 was scheduled for a full committee markup yesterday. It was slated to follow the markup of a controversial Republican bill that would undo part of President Obama's health care reform, however, which went on for several hours as Democrats offered many amendments.

Consequently, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that the markup of the Murphy-Green bill (H.R. 908) would likely take place after the House returns from its district work week next week.

The Murphy-Green legislation would reauthorize the CFATS program as it exists now through 2017. CFATS was launched in 2006 with the intent to work with chemical companies to develop comprehensive security plans. The program will run out of money this year if it is not reauthorized.

The bill started out as a bipartisan effort, but it now remains unclear whether any committee Democrats will support the bill. Green has repeatedly expressed disappointment with Republicans for being inflexible in drafting the legislation.

But Green appeared to open the door to supporting the legislation Tuesday because he had reached an agreement on language to ensure that expensive background checks for workers under the Maritime Transportation Security Act would be sufficient for CFATS facilities (E&E Daily, May 11).

Other Democrats, including committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), have been extremely critical of the measure and have pressed for legislation that would be more far reaching and include ports, water and wastewater facilities in the CFATS program (E&E Daily, April 1).

Waxman also said earlier this week that Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee are pursuing lackluster legislation at the behest of the chemical industry because otherwise the committee may lose jurisdiction over the program (E&E Daily, May 11).

Competing legislation (H.R. 901) from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), would reauthorize the CFATS program for seven years and would also strip the Energy and Commerce Committee of its primary jurisdiction over the program (E&E Daily, March 9).

The chemical industry has said it supports both bills and a lengthy extension of the current CFATS program. Chemical watchdogs, on the other hand, say CFATS as it exists now is inadequate and leaves millions of Americans at risk. Labor groups such as the United Steelworks and the International Chemical Workers Union oppose the Energy and Commerce panel's legislation in its current form (E&E Daily, May 10).