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Pallone Floor Remarks on H.R. 251, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Extension Act

Jan 8, 2019
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) delivered the following remarks on the House Floor today during consideration of H.R. 251, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Extension Act:

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to extend the authority for the Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program for two years.  The CFATS program provides critical national security protections.  We should all be alarmed that it is on the verge of lapsing.

Unless this bill becomes law, or the President reconsiders his shutdown of many parts of the federal government, the CFATS program will expire in 10 days.  The program is not perfect, but it should be continued.  This two-year extension will give the committees of jurisdiction time to consider important improvements to the program without fear that the program will lapse.

Since before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, experts have been concerned about the vulnerability of chemical plants to terrorist attack.  These facilities hold large stores of industrial chemicals that pose a safety and security risk to the American people if they are released or detonated.  A recent report found that more than 134 million Americans live in the vulnerability zones around chemical facilities.  The communities most at risk are disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color.

I have been an advocate for increased safety and security at our nation’s chemical facilities for many years, well before the CFATS program was established in 2006.  My home state of New Jersey, which has a high population density, also has a large number of chemical facilities, so the consequences of insufficient security are as real to us as they are dire. 

Unfortunately, the threats to these facilities are only increasing as climate change makes extreme weather more and more common.  CFATS-regulated facilities have been impacted by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, putting us all at risk.

The highest profile case occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.  The Chemical Safety Board released an investigation report on the incident, finding that the chemical industry is wholly unprepared for extreme weather events like floods and hurricanes.  Last year, the New York Times reported that more than 2,500 sites handling toxic chemicals are in flood-prone areas across the country. 

Instead of addressing these threats, the Trump Administration has moved aggressively to diminish protections for workers and communities around chemical facilities.  For instance, despite losing in court, EPA continues to try to roll back the Risk Management Planning program improvement rule that bolsters safety at these facilities.  EPA is also systematically ignoring risks to workers in implementing the revised Toxic Substances Control Act.  And, President Trump has twice tried to eliminate the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates disasters at these facilities.

As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I will be conducting thorough oversight of increasing threats to dangerous chemical facilities and this Administration’s concerted efforts to disregard risks to workers and hot spot communities.  That oversight will inform our future efforts to improve the CFATS program. 

We must ensure the safety and security of the workers, first responders and communities living near our nation’s chemical facilities.  That means extending this program while we consider how to improve it.  So, I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the bipartisan leadership of the Committee on Homeland Security for working with me on this important bill to ensure continuity in this program. 

I yield back.