DHS issues regulations for high-risk chemical plants

Chemical plant owners will be required to assess risk levels at their installations and submit a security vulnerability assessment and site security plan if the facility is high-risk under new regulations imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security on Apr. 3.

Apr 4th, 2007

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 4 -- Chemical plant owners will be required to assess risk levels at their installations and submit a security vulnerability assessment and site security plan if the facility is high-risk under new regulations imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security on Apr. 3.

The interim final rule gives DHS authority to impose fines of as much as $25,000/day and the ability to close noncompliant facilities. It said it will conduct site inspections and security audits to validate submissions, and provide technical assistance when it's needed.

Security standards will be designed to meet specific protection goals. These include securing each high-risk plant's perimeter and critical targets, controlling access, deterring theft of potentially dangerous chemicals, and preventing sabotage, according to DHS.

DHS said affected facilities contacted by the federal department will have 120 days from the regulations' publication in the Federal Register later this week to provide information for the risk assessment process and meet other requirements under the new rule.

DHS said it prepared the regulations following consultations with state and local governments, Congress, plant owners and operators, and the public to develop consistent guidelines that use a risk-based approach.

The new regulations preempt only those state and local regulations that conflict or interfere with the new federal rule. DHS said it currently has no reason to believe that any existing state laws are applied in a manner which will impede the federal regulation.

It said that it met an aggressive timeline imposed by Congress in proposing the interim final rule for comment and then publishing it before Apr. 4. "The safety and security measures we take need to be tough and balanced. We will significantly reduce vulnerability at high-consequence chemical facilities, taking into account significant efforts in certain states," DHS Sec. Michael Chertoff said.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association said it was pleased that the rule's initial phase encompasses a broad range of facilities possessing chemicals in quantities that might present a high level of risk, and that it then permits each covered facility to select appropriate measures to meet the standards set by DHS.

"The rule recognizes the importance of protecting security vulnerability assessments and site security plans from unwarranted public disclosure, at the same time providing for the appropriate sharing of information with state and local law enforcement officials whose duties may require knowledge of security-related information," NPRA Executive Vice-Pres. Charles T. Drevna said.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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