Chemical plants could be vulnerable to attacks if a program regulating how the industry handles terror threats expires next year, a Department of Homeland Security official warned Wednesday.
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program is set to officially sunset in April 2020, prompting concern from industry executives, administration officials and lawmakers.
“We cannot allow terrorists to access dangerous chemicals. If we can imagine a scenario, a motivated terrorist can imagine a worse one,” said David Wulf, who oversees chemical security for DHS.
Speaking at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Wulf said a chemical plant attack could have “devastating consequences.”
Enacted in 2007, CFATS applies to more than 33,000 facilities that store any chemical on a list of more than 300 substances that could be used to create an explosive device. CFATS was expected to expire in January, but a last-minute Senate deal extended the program for another 15 months.
A CFATS extension appeared to have bipartisan support among the committee members, but some Republicans worried the regulations’ costs would burden local businesses.
“We just want to be careful that we don’t drive some good manufacturing in relatively safe areas in rural America out of rural America,” said Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the top-ranking Republican on the committee.
Mr. Wulf said that while some facilities that have gone through a CFATS evaluation have shuttered, he was “pretty certain” the closures weren’t related to the program.
Despite concerns about onerous requirements, Mr. Shimkus conceded that CFATS has created safer chemical facilities.
“We all acknowledge the fact that we want to get as long-term reauthorization as we can,” he said.
Industry executives urged Congress to extend the program, saying that keeping the regulations in place will help manufacturers understand what needs to be done to prevent a terror attack.
Scott Whelchel, chief security officer and director of emergency services for Dow, said an extension would provide “much-needed stability.”
Mr. Wulf said the program was effective, telling lawmakers that facilities on average achieve “a 55% increase” in overall security because of CFATS. He estimated the program resulted in the implementation that “tens of thousands” of security measures have been put in place at chemical facilities across the nation.
Lawmakers generally agreed with Mr. Wulf.
“Everyone here understands the importance of an extension, which would give the program a vital measure of certainty and stability,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, New York Democrat.
“Threats to chemical facilities continue to evolve from cybersecurity to extreme weather events and the programs that guarantee the safety of workers, first responders and frontline communities must also evolve to meet these threats,” he said.
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