November 4, 2009
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act. This legislation would reauthorize and expand the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), which were put in place under the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007. These standards have been used to regulate the security activities of chemical facilities.
While ensuring the safety and security of chemical facilities is important, excessive regulation that prevents the private sector from doing business is a poor approach. Congress should pursue commonsense, market-conscious policy solutions that are based on an accurate assessment of risk and infrastructure vulnerabilities--not politics or economy-crippling regulatory schemes.
Needless Regulatory Expansion
CFATS expired on October 4. Since then, Members of Congress have submitted legislation, including the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act, that would not only reauthorize the existing CFATS provisions but provide for additional regulations.
One of the most disconcerting of these possible additions has been the idea of an "inherently safer technology" (IST) provision. While the language used to denote such a provision has varied from draft to draft, the effect is the same: An IST provision would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to mandate what products and processes could be used by the private sector to meet government security standards.
Proponents of the IST argue that such an addition will ensure that the private sector is choosing the safest products and processes by which to run their facilities. The word safety can be broadly interpreted and consequently is often used by those seeking to force excessive regulatory schemes on the private sector under the guise of public safety.
CFATS guidelines already provide incentives for chemical facilities to choose safer products and processes. An IST provision would needlessly expand these guidelines, dictating what the private sector should use regardless of the cost of the technology or its impact on American security. Given the safety precautions already required of the private sector and estimates that indicate that the current CFATS program will cost as much as $18.5 billion by 2015, these types of provisions inappropriately blur the line between safety and security to the detriment of the economy.
Chemical Security in 2009
It would be disingenuous to downplay the fact that chemicals and chemicals facilities are something that terrorists might target. But adding more requirements and more regulation does not necessarily equate to more security. Furthermore, confusing security with the need for more and more regulation is a mistake Congress has repeated all too often to little success.
Therefore, it is time to rethink the approach to chemical security. Providing the kind of chemical security that will keep Americans safe by making chemical facilities are harder target for terrorists, while sustaining the economy requires commonsense security policies. Such policies should focus on the following principles:
Keeping Americans free, safe, and prosperous must be at the forefront of legislative initiatives aimed at reducing America's chemical vulnerabilities. Stifling innovation and economic expansion through excessive regulatory schemes will not make Americans safer. What will accomplish this task is putting forward commonsense, market-oriented security policies that allow the private sector to find ideal solutions that are cost-efficient and reduce the incentives for terrorism.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.