Chemicals:

American Chemistry Council's Marty Durbin previews debate on facility security bill

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) are due to expire in October 2009. Congress will likely take up discussion on this legislation early during its next session to determine whether to extend the current plan or make the standards permanent. During today's OnPoint, Marty Durbin, vice president for federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council, discusses his expectations for the CFATS debate and gives his take on the adequacy of the Department of Homeland Security's plans for dealing with chemical safety. Durbin also comments on President-elect Barack Obama's nomination of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head up DHS.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is Marty Durbin, vice president for Federal Affairs at the American Chemistry Council. Marty, thanks for coming on the show.

Marty Durbin: Happy to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Marty, something that will likely fall on Congress's radar early on during the next session will be the chemical facility anti-terrorism standards that are due to expire in October of 2009. The debate hit some roadblocks last year, where are you expecting the debate to go next year?

Marty Durbin: Well, I think the Congress, as it comes back, and I think you are right that Congress will take this up again fairly early, the roadblocks really were just a matter of there were some jurisdictional disputes in the House, but I think what's important here is that we want to see the program made permanent. The statute was put into place two years ago. DHS has moved very quickly in putting the regulations in place and the good news is that just in this year you've seen 40,000 chemical facilities provide their input to DHS through what they call a top screen. Now they've screened out those facilities that are now going to be regulated. And you have more than 7000 facilities that are now, have gone through and done vulnerability assessments at their facilities. This has really forced those facilities to take a hard look at their security picture and their vulnerability picture. But, again, we need to make sure that this moves forward and is made permanent and we look forward to working with Congress to make that happen.

Monica Trauzzi: So, how would you rate the current state of safety at chemical facilities in the United States? I mean where does it stand now and where can it go through legislation like what we're talking about?

Marty Durbin: Well, first I think it's important to point out that the state of safety and security is never one that's - you're never finished. I mean it's something we're always improving on. I'm happy to say that for American Chemistry Council, you know member companies, they have about 2000 facilities around the country. We imposed a mandatory program on ourselves back in 2002. So we've already - frankly, we've set the bar on how to do security at chemical facilities, did vulnerability assessments, implemented plans and had third parties come in and verify that. But we know we're not everybody. As I said there were 40,000 facilities out there that had to go through the initial screening process at DHS, so we pushed hard to get the federal legislation. So, I mean to answer your question, I think this is an area where it gets better every day. It's a positive development that we now have legislation on the books that forces chemical companies to take a look at the security at their facilities and take the same kinds of aggressive steps that our member companies had already taken.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that some of the political shifts that we've seen, namely the chairmanship shift in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will impact the discussion and movement to get this made permanent?

Marty Durbin: I'm not sure it has much of an impact. And what I mean by that is we expected no matter who the leadership was in Energy and Commerce that we were going to see legislation move forward to make the program permanent. We worked fairy closely with Chairman Thompson and the Homeland Security Committee last year and, frankly, thought that the bill that he passed, while there were portions of it we had concerns with, was a great first step and that that did a very good job of making sure that facilities weren't going to have to duplicate efforts they had already made. But we also worked closely with the Energy and Commerce Committee as they started to address the issue as well. So we look forward to working with both committees as they take up the issue early in this Congress and of course the Senate.

Monica Trauzzi: And one of the key battles that we saw last year relating to the issue was who would have jurisdiction over it. Would Energy and Commerce and EPA have jurisdiction or would the Homeland Security Committee and DHS have jurisdiction? Do you think that that battle is going to come back up again or does Waxman maybe bring something else to the table that maybe he's not going to allow for something like that to happen?

Marty Durbin: Well, rather than referring to it as a battle, I think it's clearly an issue that needs to be resolved within the Democratic leadership.

Monica Trauzzi: There's a lot of crossover.

Marty Durbin: There is and, again, there are legitimate issues that the Congress is looking at on what changes might need to be made to the regulations. Again, we think the regulations that are in place are very effective. I think they're very stringent. You know, the DHS, after going through these vulnerability assessments and putting site security plans together does have the ability to shut down facilities that aren't meeting the standards. So, again, we're looking forward to working with both committees to see the program made permanent.

Monica Trauzzi: Considering the large number of issues that Congress will be juggling next year, what do you think the likelihood is that they will just extend the current plan and not do what you were talking about, but just continue with the current plan and essentially punt it until the following year?

Marty Durbin: Well, again, we just look back and see the amount of effort put in last Congress, there clearly is an interest in looking at the chemical security legislation and making some changes. You know, from our standpoint, I think the most critical thing is to make sure that the program does continue. We think it is an effective program, but I must say even with everything else that's on Congress' plate it's my expectation that they will make a concerted effort to pass legislation, but again that's just my crystal ball.

Monica Trauzzi: A recent report by the Center for American Progress said that DHS's plans for dealing with chemical safety are inadequate. What are the biggest sticking points there and where can more progress be made?

Marty Durbin: Well, let me say first, I think that the Center for American Progress has done some good work and clearly we share the objective they have in making sure that all the critical infrastructure is adequately protected against threats of terrorism. My concern with their recent report was that it may be an oversimplification that leans more toward an objective of trying to eliminate risk rather than manage risk. We don't disagree at all that chemical facilities should be looking at all the different aspects of their operations, from the materials they use, the processes they use, and what types of physical security enhancements can be made to put layers of protection around those critical areas of their facility? But that's the critical piece. There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle and you've got to use all the tools in the toolbox. You can't simply say, "Well, we have a material we're concerned about, so let's just try to get rid of it." You know, these are critical materials that go into a lot of different parts of our economy and critical applications, everything from drinking water safety to medical applications and what have you.

Monica Trauzzi: The nomination of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as head of DHS under Obama, what does that signal to you in terms of the general focus of the agency? Is there going to be more of a focus on immigration, maybe less of a focus on terrorism? What changes do you see coming to the agency?

Marty Durbin: Well, I honestly don't have a clear picture on exactly what the new secretary will do, but I guess just from my own reading my own expectations are that I think this is an agency that is still new enough where they don't yet have a full comfort level with their mission and it is a very broad mission. It's not just terrorism. It's not just immigration. They have to be able to handle all of these things. So I don't see them taking their eye off the ball on making sure that we're protecting our critical infrastructures against threats of terrorism, but clearly expectations are Governor Napolitano will bring some more experience and expertise to the immigration issue.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. What impact is the economic downturn having on all of this and the ability to implement technologies that make chemical plants safer? How does the economic downturn impact all that?

Marty Durbin: Well, I don't believe the economic downturn itself is having any impact on the safety and security programs at our facilities. I mean those are core responsibilities from our member companies. We have our own responsible care program and a separate security code within that, so there are already requirements as members of ACC. Clearly we have the regulations in place, but you know, our member companies, this is an industry of innovation and ingenuity and I think that the regulations that are in place provide a flexibility that essentially unleashes that ingenuity. But getting back to your point though, I mean it is a responsibility of ours no matter what the economic situation is to make sure that our operations are operated in a safe and secure manner. I mean to date our members alone have invested more than $6.5 billion enhancing security since 9/11.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, so we'll see what Congress does next year. Thanks for coming on the show.

Marty Durbin: You're welcome, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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