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House Homeland Security Committee Passes Antiterrorism Standards for Chemical Facilities

06/24/2009 -The House Homeland Security Committee approved a bill yesterday along party lines that could make chemical facilities use safer technologies and open them to civil lawsuits when they violate regulations,according to (subscription only).

If passed, the bill would codify the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, which are set to expire in October.

Republicans on the committee tried to amend the bill to make it harder to bring civil lawsuits but were unsuccessful.

On Tuesday, the panel rejected three Republican amendments that would have addressed a provision to allow civil lawsuits against facilities that violate chemical security regulations or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for failing to enforce them, even if the party filing the suit has not been injured.

One, by Paul Broun of Georgia, would have eliminated the provision outright; another, by Mark Souder of Indiana, would have prevented lawsuits that release proprietary information or present a se curity risk; and a third, by Michael McCaul of Texas, would have allowed citizens to lodge complaints with the inspector general rather than file lawsuits.

The committee discussed the amendments June 19, but rejected them Tuesday along party lines, voting 11-17 against Broun’s provision, 10-16 against Souder’s and 11-17 against McCaul’s.

But Republicans were successful at amending the legislation to make it harder for the Homeland Security Secretary to make certain facilities use "inherently safer technologies" by replacing dangerous substances or processes with safer ones to reduce the damage of a terrorist attack.

Two amendments from Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) passed that would make the homeland security chief go before Congress to explain how much the changes would cost the facility before ordering them while the second would bar the homeland security chief from ordering changes that would result in staff or production cuts.

For more on inherently safer technologies, see Associate Editor's Matthew Harwood's "New Chemical Solutions" from the August 2007 print edition.

♦ Photo bycliff1066/Flickr