Representatives call for CFATS review

Blue Ribbon Commission should consider whether program should be expanded to include plant safety, say congressmen
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Two representatives are urging the White House to appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, including the possibility that CFATS should expand in scope to cover facility safety.

In a May 2 letter (.pdf), Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)--the ranking members of the House committees on Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security, respectively--say that in light of the April 17 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, a presidentially appointed commission should review the CFATS program.

The explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant killed at least 14, many of them firefighters responding to a fire at the plant, reports Texas television station KWTX. Federal investigators said (.pdf) preliminary measurements of the crater left by the explosion measure 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep; it also flattened nearby buildings. President Obama made an emergency declaration for the surrounding area on April 19.

The letter from Waxman and Thompson notes that facility operators were supposed to submit preliminary information to the CFATS program--called a top screen--for the purposes of determining whether the facility would come under security risk mitigation measures called for by the program, but never did so.

It also notes that DHS officials have also said that even had CFATS officials reviewed the facility, "no action would have been taken that could have prevented the explosion or reduced its consequences."

The CFATS program mandate, in fact, doesn't include plant safety; it is a counterterrorism program meant to limit access to dangerous chemicals to authorized personnel. But that's something the Blue Ribbon Commission, should it be appointed, should examine, said a Democrat House Homeland Security spokesman.

The letter also notes several problems with CFATS management, including a verdict by Homeland Security auditors in a March 2013 office of inspector general report (.pdf) that concluded, "The CFATS Program has not yet been fully implemented, and concerns remain over whether it can achieve its mission."

For more:
- download Waxman's and Thompson's letter (.pdf)

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