BlueGreen Alliance Testimony to House Committee on Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards

The BlueGreen Alliance's National Director for Occupational and Environmental Health Mike Wilson today testified at the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation's hearing on the Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS) program about the importance of protecting communities and workers at chemical facilities around the country.

March 12, 2019

The BlueGreen Alliance urged the committee to to consider revisions that would motivate and require companies to meet three key objectives:

  • Ensure a safe, effective emergency response to a major industrial chemical incident;
  • Provide for meaningful worker participation in security planning and decision-making; and
  • Implement risk reduction measures to limit the attractiveness of chemical facilities as targets of opportunity.

The historical record and the findings of the U.S. Chemical Safety Investigation Board illustrate that a major industrial chemical release, fire, or explosion caused by a motivated actor could devastate the lives of workers, families, and entire communities. We urged the committee to use the reauthorization of CFATS as an opportunity to strengthen the program. The result will be improved security for our nation’s process facilities, safer workplaces and communities, and a more resilient industrial infrastructure.

TESTIMONY AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Michael P. Wilson, PhD, MPH, National Director for Occupational and Environmental Health, BlueGreen Alliance

Before the 116thUnited States Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation

Securing Our Nation’s Chemical Facilities: Stakeholder Perspectives on Improving the CFATS Program 

Thank you Chairman Richmond, Ranking Member Katko and distinguished members. My name is Mike Wilson, and I’m the national director for occupational and environmental health at the BlueGreen Alliance. We’re a national coalition of 14 labor unions and environmental organizations that has been working together for over a decade to build our nation’s clean energy economy in ways that create good jobs, with family-supporting wages and safe working conditions.

On behalf of the BlueGreen Alliance and the millions of members and supporters our partners represent, I thank you for inviting me today.

We believe CFATS should be reauthorized, but in doing so, we urge Congress to take the opportunity to modernize it by strengthening its requirements in three areas: emergency response; worker participation; and risk reduction.

I’ll touch on each of these. 

EMERGENCY RESPONSE 

In the area of emergency response, CFATS gives authority to the secretary to provide information to local governments “to help ensure that first responders are properly prepared and provided with the situational awareness needed to respond to security incidents at covered chemical facilities.” This is useful but not sufficient if the objective is to give firefighters the ability to respond effectively to an industrial chemical incident.

As we know from the experience of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, or EPCRA, firefighters need much more than chemical information: they need to talk to the people who run the facilities in their jurisdiction; they need to get inside those facilities regularly to see how chemicals are stored and processed in order to imagine what could go wrong. They need to train side-by-side with facility operators. This pre-fire planning is crucial to a safe and effective response, and it requires an ongoing commitment by industry.

That commitment, however, needs to be more explicitly required under CFATS than what is currently recommended within the non-mandatory, Risk Based Performance Standards under Response (9) and Training (11). Because the fact is that except in an emergency, many facilities are reluctant to invite firefighters and other responders in to look around their property—let alone to pull out their equipment and conduct training.

I speak to this based on my own 13 years of work as a professional firefighter, EMT and paramedic, during which time I responded to about 10,000 emergency calls, including to industrial chemical releases and fires. I can tell you that to do their job, firefighters need both information and access, and they’re more likely to get these if facilities are required to provide them on a routine basis under CFATS.

WORKER PARTICIPATION

Our second recommendation pertains to the role of front-line workers in site security. The existing CFATS language on employee input is helpful but too generic to be effective. Depending on the inclinations of the facility, the term “employee input” can mean everything from a manager checking-the-box to get worker sign-off on a fully executed site security plan, or it could mean a real seat for workers at management’s decision-making table.

In any case, the right of workers to participate meaningfully in site security decision-making needs to be explicit in CFATS, because—just as they are reluctant to give routine access to firefighters—many facilities are reluctant to seriously involve front-line workers in decision-making. And yet, industry itself recognizes that workers have a great deal of knowledge and experience to contribute.

We suggest that you consider language from the 2017 Process Safety Management regulations in California, which require oil refineries to involve workers “throughout all phases” of process safety decision-making. If adopted by CFATS, this type of language will help ensure that the insights of front-line workers are genuinely integrated into site security.

RISK REDUCTION

Our third recommendation pertains to risk reduction. CFATS is based on a risk managementframework, which assumes that dangerous chemicals used at a facility cannot be reduced or eliminated, so they have to be surrounded by layers of security.

Industry is far more innovative and clever than this, of course, and DHS has reported that under CFATS, thousands of facilities have voluntarily taken action to reduce their use of dangerous chemicals by:

  • Consolidating them from multiple sites into a one or two sites;
  • Replacing a hazardous chemical with a less hazardous one;
  • Reducing the total quantity held onsite; or
  • Switching to a less concentrated form.

These approaches can make a facility much safer, and they have the effect of reducing the desirability of the facility as a target of opportunity.

CFATS could do more to encourage or require facilities to implement these types of approaches, and we encourage you to make these changes during reauthorization.

In closing, we know from the historical record and the excellent work of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that a major industrial chemical incident can devastate the lives of workers, companies and entire communities. We urge you to use the reauthorization of CFATS as an opportunity to strengthen it in the ways we have described.

Thank you, and I will be glad to answer any questions you might have.

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Click the link below to read Mike Wilson’s full written testimony.

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