Janet Napolitano, the new chief of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency tasked with preparing for possible terrorist attacks, promises that she will “plan carefully and thoroughly so that our domestic response to all hazards is fast, sound, level-headed and effective. Americans deserve no less.” We at the American Chemistry Council wholeheartedly agree. America‘s chemistry industry is the lifeblood of our economy - directly touching 96 percent of all manufactured goods - so securing and maintaining the economic viability of this critical part of our infrastructure is vital to U.S. prosperity and national security. Americans deserve the best protection and fully expect responsible operators that use or store certain hazardous chemicals to take strong and decisive measures to protect their facilities.
In the coming weeks, the secretary undoubtedly will hear from lawmakers about proposals for new legislation on chemical plant security measures. But she also will hear another view shared by many in Congress and us in the chemistry industry - that the country should give current security regulations a chance to work before revamping them further.
A little history is in order. No one can accuse ACC members of standing still or doing security on the cheap. We instituted a stringent, mandatory security program within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and to date, our members have invested more than $6 billion on facility security enhancements under our Responsible Care Security Code program. This effort requires member companies to conduct comprehensive vulnerability assessments of their facilities, enact security enhancements, and obtain independent verification that those improvements have been made.
The security program has become the gold standard for the industry, and it has won praise from Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and security experts, while serving as a model for state and local programs in Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
In coordination with the federal, state and local governments, our members have been working tirelessly to boost security further.
ACC also helped lead a successful effort in Congress to authorize the DHS to establish the most comprehensive chemical security program in our nation’s history, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). Chemical facilities have been swift to implement this stringent new program.
The overall goal of the new rules is to ensure that facilities across the country are taking action to thwart a terrorist attack while lowering the attractiveness to terrorists of sites that use or store chemicals. The rules require chemical facilities to address a wide range of threats, from preventing a bomb-laden car from reaching a target, to deterring or delaying a terrorist assault team from breeching security at a critical facility, to preventing theft or diversion of materials from a site.
This past fall, the DHS issued guidance for these robust standards that spells out how operators can secure their facilities and meet the requirements of the regulation. The DHS guidance is a valuable tool in helping facility operators fully understand their requirements so they can meet the aggressive timetable set forth under CFATS to secure the nation’s high-risk chemical facilities.
We believe Secretary Napolitano will recognize that the rules are eminently sensible because they do not take a myopic, one-size-fits-all approach that is favored by some. These rules assume, and rightly so, that each facility faces a different set of unique security challenges based on many different factors like geography or the type of chemicals used onsite. This performance-based strategy allows facilities to develop security plans tailored to address their unique needs and vulnerabilities. By not boxing facility operators into a singular approach for securing their facilities, the rules allow and encourage operators to consider a wide array of security measures from process changes to hardening their facilities.
This is a security program with teeth and bite for those who fail to take security seriously. Any facility that fails to act can, and should, be fined and/or shut down by DHS.
Unfortunately, CFATS expires late in 2009. Due to the significant progress made toward securing the nation’s high-risk chemical facilities, ACC fully supports making this stringent program permanent.
While some have argued for scrapping the rules and starting over, Secretary Napolitano should ensure implementation of these new rules at over 7,000 high-risk sites nationwide. DHS, industry and Congress will then have the benefit of seeing what works in the program and what needs to be enhanced.
The chemistry industry has a history of taking security seriously - it was the nation’s first to complete a detailed strategy under the DHS National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which ensures that the economy and government continue operating in the event of a terrorist attack or disaster. Our member companies have clearly demonstrated their commitment to safeguarding America’s chemical facilities, and it is in that spirit we will continue to work with Congress and DHS.
Cal Dooley is president and CEO of the Arlington-based American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical companies.