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Chemical terrorism scramble

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Jul 12, 2023

A chemical plant in McIntosh, Ala. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Lawmakers are racing to stop a post-9/11 anti-terrorism and safety law from lapsing at month's end.

Why it matters: The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program — a rare regulatory effort with enthusiastic industry backing — requires companies to have plans to prepare for attacks against chemicals facilities with a high risk to the public.

  • It was first created as an experimental program with a temporary authorization, meaning it requires extensions.

Driving the news: Leaders in the House and Senate Homeland Security committees are trying to hastily pass a clean extension of CFATS, which expires July 27.

  • The House HomeSec committee earlier today advanced a two-year extension of the program.
  • Senate HomeSec chair Gary Peters released his own bipartisan five-year extension in June, and told Axios today he's examining the Rule 14 process enabling bills to be placed directly on the Senate calendar.
  • "Chairman Peters thinks a longer extension is better to ensure certainty for the companies that participate [in] this critical program so we can continue to protect our national security for years to come," a Peters aide said.
  • This comes after a July 5 plea for a "long-term, multi-year, clean reauthorization" from major trade associations, including chemicals and resource industry organizations.

Threat level: House Chair Mark Green said during the markup that the only way he can avoid the program's lapse is to move a clean extension because "there are some people in the Senate and the House who want the program to go away completely."

  • "They think it's excessive and duplicative," said Green, who didn't name names.

This led some members to grumble about the need to improve the program and studies showing safety deficiencies.

  • But their amendments got shot down after Green said he believed his measure was the only way to get a fix in time to avoid the program expiring.
  • "We're really threading a needle here," he said.

What industry's saying: American Chemistry Council spokesperson Scott Jensen said failure to reauthorize the program in time "would disrupt" the interactions companies have with government on anti-terrorism measures, including information sharing and site reviews.

  • Jensen said it'll be a "difficult task" to get it done in time.

What we're watching: the Energy and Commerce Committee's schedule. It's the other House panel with jurisdiction over chemicals.

  • A Republican E&C aide said: "We're currently reviewing the options for determining the best path forward for renewing CFATS' statutory authority."
  • We'll also be watching to see if the GOP infighting that clouds other must-pass bills will hit CFATS at crunch time.
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