In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Christine Todd Whitman, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), called for greater regulation of the U.S.’s chemical sector, claiming that the current Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Standards (CFATS) program isn’t doing enough to protect the American people:
The policy bars the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] from requiring some specific security measures, like the use of safer chemical processes, and exempts thousands of dangerous chemical facilities, including all water treatment plants and refineries located on navigable waters, from complying with even the weakest security measures.
Created in 2007, CFATS prescribes a regulatory framework for facilities that produce, handle, or store high-risk chemicals in the United States. While intended to offer a risk-based approach to chemical security with respect to the needs and existing efforts of industry, CFATS has been plagued with issues and has ultimately proved exceedingly complicated and overly burdensome on the private sector.
Rather than critically examining the program and addressing its flaws, however, many have instead simply called for further regulation. As evident by Whitman’s criticism of the existing chemical regulatory framework, calls have been made for the extension of CFATS regulations to exempted facilities—particularly public water and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as a mandate for chemical facilities to employ inherently safer technology (IST).
These calls are not only misguided but would do little to enhance U.S. chemical security. In fact, an IST mandate—which would demand that companies consider alternative, purportedly safer chemicals to replace the use of potentially dangerous chemicals—could actually increase security risks.
Unsatisfied with failure of Congress to grant DHS the authority to mandate IST, Whitman is now fighting to revive calls for the EPA to be granted similar authority under the Clean Air Act. Proponents of Whitman’s proposal have argued that the EPA has a long history of regulating chemical safety in the U.S., so the agency would be well prepared to oversee chemical security.
Even putting aside the fact that safety and security are two different matters, the Clean Air Act proposal would likely impose overlapping and confusing regulatory requirements and additional cost burdens on facilities already regulated by CFATS at little benefit to security.
Whitman did get one thing right, however: The Administration and the private sector should work together to ensure the security of truly high-risk chemical facilities. Over-regulatory and burdensome policies, however, benefit no one.
Rather than simply promoting more regulation, our nation’s leaders should step back and take a critical look at existing chemical security frameworks and work with the private sector to develop common-sense, market-conscious policy solutions for U.S. chemical security.