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Congress allows Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards to expire

Aug. 1, 2023
Department of Homeland Security's CFATS program, managed by CISA, was established in 2006 to ensure security measures are in place to reduce the risk of hazardous chemicals being weaponized

Legislators failed to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) before their July 27 sunset, leaving chemical facilities to deal with national security threats “on their own,” according to a statement by the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD).

Congress first authorized DHS to establish the CFATS program in 2006. Managed by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), CFATS identifies and regulates high-risk chemical facilities to ensure security measures are in place to reduce the risk of certain hazardous chemicals being weaponized. The program previously was extended four times with bipartisan support, with the last update in July 2020.

The House approved legislation (H.R. 4470) to renew the program, but holdout Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, blocked fast-tracked consideration in the Senate before lawmakers left town for the summer recess, leaving facility operators at sites with dangerous chemicals unable to use the federal terrorist watchlist to vet employees and contractors, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which also expressed its “deep concern and disappointment.”

“By allowing CFATS to expire, our industry and the country lost a valuable tool in the ongoing fight against terrorism,” ACC stated in a news release. “ACC and its members called on Congress to pass an extension for CFATS because the program provides a strong yet flexible national approach to chemical security.

“The Senate failed us by adjourning without acting to keep CFATS in place.

“The loss of CFATS creates immediate risks and problems by limiting the ability to vet personnel, increasing exposure to cyber threats, and opening the door to a patchwork of federal and state regulations. Congress must get back to work immediately to reinstate CFATS to help keep our industry and America safe.”

ACC said its members are long-time supporters of CFATS because it’s vital to national security and protecting the chemical sector from an act of terrorism. According to DHS, the agency has seen facilities increase their security measures by almost 60% under CFATS, illustrating the program has delivered “real results” for 17 years.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) also urged senators to “expeditiously pass” H.R. 4470 before it expired, saying the specialty and fine chemical industries “worked diligently for many years to cultivate relationships that enhance the security and resilience of America’s chemical facilities.”

CISA notified facilities of the lapse July 28, stating “the statutory authority for the CFATS program has expired. The approximately 3,300 high-risk chemical facilities are no longer bound by the CFATS regulation (6 CFR Part 27). Facilities no longer have a requirement to report their chemicals of interest to CISA.

“Chemical terrorism continues to pose a threat against national security. CISA encourages chemical facilities to continue to maintain security measures for their dangerous chemicals. The voluntary ChemLock program provides services and tools that facilities with dangerous chemicals can use to enhance their security posture in a way that works for their business model.”

Eric R. Byer, NACD president and CEO, said his association has been “ringing the alarm” about the approaching deadline for months—to no avail.

“Now that the program has regrettably expired, our nation’s sensitive chemical facilities have the difficult challenge of navigating a wide range of national security risks—including physical, cyber, and emerging artificial intelligence risks—on their own,” Byers said in a news release. “The industry will be left to manage these threats without the invaluable insight and partnership with the U.S Department of Homeland Security.

“Given the vital role of chemicals in our economy and their unique vulnerabilities, it’s imperative that we take the necessary steps to protect this critical infrastructure from a range of threats posed by the country’s adversaries. I am incredibly disappointed that the U.S. Senate failed to reauthorize the CFATS program ahead of its expiration last night, potentially leaving our nation’s security exposed.

“NACD will continue to work with Congressional leaders to underscore the importance of this critical program and call on Congress to immediately reinstate and extend CFATS to ensure the security of the American people.”

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