At the beginning of this year, in a major win for U.S. national security, Congress sent H.R. 251, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program Extension Act, to the president’s desk for signature. The bipartisan agreement provided the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, or CFATS, with a 15-month extension and reaffirmed Congress’ support for this effective chemical regulatory program as a vital part of our nation’s counterterrorism efforts. While this brief extension was a critical and necessary step for the continuity of CFATS, our program and our nation’s highest-risk chemical facilities, including many in Louisiana, need the stability that only a long-term policy solution can provide.
Recently, I testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on how CFATS was created out of a swift action to secure this nation from the risks of chemical terrorism. Since its inception in 2006, we have successfully done just that. CFATS is a targeted, flexible program designed to address the evolving security threats at the broad range of facilities by working with stakeholders to help them develop and implement security plans.
This week, more than 500 stakeholders are planning to gather at the Chemical Sector Security Summit in New Orleans — in a state that's home to a large segment of the chemical industry — to discuss security in today’s complex risk landscape. Cosponsored by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Chemical Sector Coordinating Council, the summit is a clear example of stakeholders’ confidence in the future of CFATS and reflects how the private-public partnership we have forged fosters a culture of chemical security.
Securing our nation’s chemical infrastructure is crucial to our economy, security, and public health. Chemicals help us develop medicines, refine fuel for our vehicles, provide refrigeration for our food supply, and manufacture the microchips that run our smartphones. In Louisiana, manufacturers use chemicals to make a variety of products we use every day such as batteries; paints and plastics; liquid soap; fertilizer and feedstock; and many more. Despite these benefits, the threat of chemical terrorism is as real and relevant as it has ever been. Terrorists and other adversaries around the globe continue to target chemical facilities, and to seek out, acquire, and use chemicals in deadly attacks.
In the United States, we have had great success in fostering chemical security and, as a result, have not experienced chemical attacks of the sort we’ve seen in recent years in Europe and the Middle East. Through CFATS, and in concert with CISA's federal, state, local, and territorial partners, we have been able to identify and address suspicious attempts to acquire chemicals, as well as instances in which “insiders” associated with chemical facilities have possessed bomb-making materials and extremist publications containing instructions for building chemical or explosive devices. Without the CFATS program, dangerous chemicals would be vulnerable to terrorist exploitation which is why authorizing the program for the long-term would enable chemical industry stakeholders to make appropriate and affordable long-term investments in chemical security.
CFATS has brought our nation’s chemical security standards to a higher level and — in concert with the support of Congress and our committed industry stakeholders — has made our highest-risk chemical infrastructure into a truly hard target for terrorists. CFATS has enhanced the security posture and readiness of high-risk chemical facilities to prevent on-site consequences and the theft or diversion of chemicals that could be used in terrorist attacks. The work our program has done in the United States is being replicated and emulated in other countries. CFATS has built a world-leading culture of chemical security.
We appreciate Congress’ efforts last year to reauthorize and further enhance CFATS, which ultimately led to the unanimous passage and enactment of a 15-month extension. The threat environment is constantly evolving, and we urge Congress to take similarly swift action to ensure the long-term continuation of this important and effective anti-terrorism program. Chemical security is not a temporary issue. Without such legislative action, CFATS — and associated security requirements at America’s more than 3,000 high-risk chemical facilities — will cease to exist.
Brian Harrell is the assistant director for infrastructure security at the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.