On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will meet to discuss the much-debated Chemical Facility Anti Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, which requires that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) establish security standards for facilities that produce, handle, or store potentially dangerous chemicals.
Enacted in the aftermath of 9/11, the program was to provide chemical facilities with the flexibility to decide how best to meet government security standards. In reality, however, it has resulted in overly complicated and burdensome regulation that has hampered the private sector without providing significant improvements to national security.
CFATS has been plagued with problems since its inception. More than five years since its creation, the program has yet to complete a final inspection of any regulated facility. In fact, DHS has not even developed the procedures to do so and has also admitted to extensive problems with program personnel.
Then there is the issue of overregulation. While CFATS was intended to provide flexibility to facility owners in meeting security standards, in reality the program has represented an attempt by the federal government to dictate chemical facility processes and standards.
And there are those in Congress who only want to make the matter worse by adding an Inherently Safer Technology (IST) mandate, which would require that companies consider replacing their chemicals with alternative, “safer” chemicals. Yet safer may be a relative term. In fact, industry leaders indicate that, in many cases, the combination of replacement chemicals may be more dangerous than those originally being used.
Moreover, the CFATS legislation largely fails to leverage the existing security infrastructure that many facilities have in place. Given that chemical facility owners already have the significant incentive to secure their resources and protect their facilities, this legislation can only impose rigid and burdensome restrictions on the private sector.
Instead of imposing misguided regulations like CFATS, the government should engage in performance-based, market-conscious solutions for chemical security. It should capitalize on the existing interest the private sector has in securing its facilities by supporting industry efforts to enhance security.
DHS should also enact measures to encourage transparency and cooperation. It is, after all, in the interests of both the government and the private sector to have an effective system of chemical security. But that system cannot be something thrown together as a knee-jerk reaction to the perceived chemical security threat. It should be based off of the realities of the chemical security industry and the free market system. In doing so, it can and should have both good intentions and good results.
Maura Cremin is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.