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Bennie T.
Democrat MS 2

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  • Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Authorization and Accountability Act of 2014

    by Representative Bennie G. Thompson

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, I rise in very reluctant support of the Senate amendment to H.R. 4007 and yield myself such time as I may consume.

    Mr. Speaker, H.R. 4007 authorizes the Chemical Facility Anti- Terrorism Standards, or CFATS, program through 2017 and came through regular order.

    As a lead author of the original legislation to establish DHS' chemical security program, I have consistently supported efforts for this committee to advance freestanding authorizing legislation to ensure that the program, which was stood up pursuant to a paragraph in the 2007 appropriations bill, was fully authorized.

    Until today, the closest Congress has come to replacing that appropriations language with a more detailed and comprehensive bill was in 2010, when the House unanimously approved legislation I authored with then-Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman.

    {time} 0945 H.R. 4007 bears little resemblance to that measure. However, there are a few provisions that are in the spirit of the prior bill, such as worker participation in the development of security plans and the provision of basic whistleblower protections to workers who risk their jobs to come forward to report security issues.

    I appreciate the contributions made to the legislation by the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, particularly with respect to whistleblower rights and the personnel surety program, two areas championed by subcommittee Ranking Member Clarke and committee Democrats.

    I am pleased that Democratic efforts to prevent regulatory overreach by DHS with respect to personnel surety ultimately prevailed so that under this bill facilities would have a range of options for how to ensure that individuals accessing their facilities are vetted.

    The bill also grants DHS new authorities to identify and bring into compliance facilities that willfully ignore this Federal regulatory program, [[Page H9059]] putting their workers and surrounding communities at risk. This so- called outlier provision is in direct response to Chemical Safety Board findings regarding the deadly fire and damaging explosions at the West Fertilizer Company in Texas in April 2013. The board determined that they were preventable and that it was due in part to the ``inability of Federal, State, and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.'' Though I support a multiyear authorization for CFATS and there are a number of provisions in the bill that I fully support, there is one in the bill, as considered today, that could very well undermine the effectiveness of the entire program. I am, of course, speaking of the language authored by the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee that directs DHS to establish a so-called expedited approval program, or, as I have come to see it, a self-certification program.

    Yes, you heard me right. Under this bill, some facilities would be able to self-certify that they are in compliance with the risk-based performance standards under the program. The population of facilities that would be eligible for this scheme represents about 70 percent of all facilities subject to this regulatory program.

    The inclusion of this provision which requires DHS within 180 days to issue guidance to facilities on how to access self-certification has not gone through the rigor of intensive and balanced bicameral legislative debate or discussions. It lacks a legislative history. Allowing certain CFATS-covered facilities to independently certify that the security plans they developed meet statutory requirements is an inherently risky approach that leaves DHS with few options.

    Given the resource challenges and chronic backlog challenges in the CFATS program, I have trouble believing that self-certified facilities would receive timely inspections where misrepresentations, omissions, and inadequacies with the plan could be identified. Defenders of this provision have argued that my concerns about turning back the clock on security are misplaced. I certainly hope so.

    If this measure is enacted into law, as I expect will occur, we will know within a very short period of time if the CFATS office can effectively design and launch a new program within its program that is consistent with risk-based and performance-based standards.

    H.R. 4007 certainly has the potential to be an oversight gold mine, giving the Committee on Homeland Security plenty to dig into during the next Congress. Despite my deep concerns with the self-certification program, I will be voting in favor of H.R. 4007. I will be casting an ``aye'' vote to get the CFATS program off the erratic appropriations cycle and give some predictability to the facilities that are regulated under the program and the men and women that look to DHS to partner effectively with the facilities to help keep them secure.

    Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, I plan to vote in favor of H.R. 4007, but will do so with deep reservations. By including the self- certification program, I am troubled by the message that this measure may send to the American public about how serious we are about ensuring that facilities comply with the CFATS security program. If a company misrepresents its size in a self-certification to the Small Business Administration to improperly access small business set asides, truly eligible small businesses could be harmed.

    If a company misrepresents its chemical holdings and how it is protecting them against sabotage in a self-certification to the Department of Homeland Security to secure CFATS compliance certification, the results could be dangerous, even deadly. I certainly hope that DHS runs all the traps to reduce the likelihood that the program will be exploited.

    I plan to vote for this bill to put the CFATS program on a more stable and secure footing, to ensure that chemical workers have whistleblower rights, and to stop DHS from putting in place onerous and unnecessarily burdensome personnel surety vetting requirements. Again, Mr. Speaker, I plan to vote for this bill even with my reservations. It is a good start, and I compliment the chairman of the subcommittee for his work on it. It has been a labor of love. I wish we could have done more, but in the interest of getting us moving, I will support this bill.

    I yield back the balance of my time.

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