Distracted politicians have given terrorists chemical targets in US

Progressive Democratic activist Lisa McCormick is taking lawmakers to task for allowing the statutory authority for the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) to expire on July 28, 2023.

“While US Senator Bob Menendez was busy stuffing his pockets with bribe money and hiding gold bars in his home, Congress allowed the statutory authority for the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (6 CFR Part 27) to expire on July 28, 2023, so it has been 69 days since the CFATS program lapsed. Congress must reinstate CFATS now,” said McCormick. “Attacks on U.S. chemical facilities have the potential to affect thousands, possibly millions of people, yet many of them remain poorly secured and a program to provide security has been allowed to lapse.”

CFATS is the nation’s first regulatory program focused specifically on security at high-risk chemical facilities. It identifies and regulates these facilities to ensure security measures are in place to reduce the risk that certain dangerous chemicals are weaponized by terrorists.

“Our own representatives have joined our adversaries by creating a heightened threat environment that puts more of us in danger than ever before, especially here in New Jersey along what was described as ‘the most dangerous two miles in America’,” said McCormick.

Chemicals are used in nearly every U.S. industry and are critical to a strong supply chain. However, the chemical industry also comes with security challenges that require government agencies and companies to work together to stay ahead of the ever-evolving threats facing our nation.

“Those threats are real and show no signs of diminishing. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) latest threat assessment states that the threat of terrorism from domestic and foreign actors remains high,” said McCormick.

“Unfortunately, despite continued threats, the nation’s chemical facility security program expired, leaving our country without vital tools to fight terrorism,” said McCormick.

The loss of CFATS has left the chemical industry managing countless threats without valuable tools and support from DHS. For example, the industry lost the ability to vet, on average, 300 names per day, or 9,000 names a month, to determine whether individuals who are trying to access chemical facilities have ties to terrorism.

“CFATS works, and the country needs it,” said McCormick. “Now it’s time for the Senate to do its job and restore CFATS. It should not take an act of terrorism to make it happen.”

McCormick is a progressive Democratic activist who is known for her outspoken criticism of corruption and corporate influence in government.

Lisa McCormick with Wilma Campbell, Alex Lospinoso and Sylvia Turnage
Lisa McCormick with Wilma Campbell, Alex Lospinoso, and Sylvia Turnage

McCormick earned 47 percent of the vote against County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi— when she led the Democrats for Change team in the Union County’s 2010 Democratic primary, and then she stunned political observers when — as the only New Jersey Democrat with the courage to run against embattled Senator Bob Menendez — she captured four of ten votes cast statewide in the 2018 Democratic primary with only a $5000 budget.

The standards, colloquially known as the CFATS program, provided for regular inspection of chemical companies and additional regulation of hazardous chemicals for national security purposes. 

Several trade groups have pushed for the program’s renewal, which would restore regulations on facilities that use or store high-risk chemicals and provide chemical companies with federal resources to vet personnel who access high-risk chemicals.

The CFATS program was created to address chemical facilities’ national security vulnerabilities identified after terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Under the program, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had the authority to require facilities to report the storage or use of any chemicals of interest, perform inspections of the facilities and conduct other activities to ensure certain security measures were in place. 

Since the program expired July 28 and, due to the program’s lapse, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says it can’t conduct inspections or carry out other aspects of the program.

The CFATS program has received widespread bipartisan support and the House passed legislation to renew the program again on July 25 but an attempt to fast-track the bipartisan two-year reauthorization bill was blocked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) before the Senate left town for the August recess. 

Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Bob Menendez failed to address the security of chemical facilities, leaving states like New Jersey vulnerable to terror attacks.

The bill to fast-track reauthorization was introduced by Sens. James Lankford (R–Okla.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) in June.

“The types of chemicals protected by the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program are the same chemicals used in the OKC domestic terrorist bombing in 1995,” Lankford explained in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction, emphasizing the need to “make sure these dangerous chemicals don’t fall into the wrong hands or get exploited by terrorists.”

“By preventing this vital anti-terrorism program from expiring, this bipartisan legislation will help protect our national security and ensure the Department of Homeland Security has the tools and resources it needs to prevent terrorists from weaponizing chemicals to attack the United States,” Peters added. 

In 2002, Carl Prine, an investigative reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, found he could simply walk onto the premises of dozens of chemical plants around the country, some of which stored hazardous materials that could endanger millions of people. In a few cases, employees even “gave directions to the most sensitive valves and control rooms.” 

On Sept. 6, trade groups representing companies in the chemical, energy, transportation and agricultural industries as well as other business interests signed a letter pressing members of the U.S. Senate to swiftly pass the reauthorization bill.

The letter claims that “9,000 new individuals have not been screened for terrorist ties” in the past month due to the lapse in the CFATS program. 

“When authorized, the CFATS program promotes security by providing facility risk assessments, guidance to companies about their security plans and policies, and vetting personnel against the terrorist screening database,” the coalition letter notes, adding that the coalition’s “members will continue to make investments and decisions to strengthen facility security to the best of their knowledge and ability. However, these efforts are much stronger with CFATS, which allows the private sector and federal partners to work together.

The letter, which was provided to OpenSecrets, was signed by members of the “CFATS Coalition” — including the American Chemistry CouncilAgricultural Retailers AssociationAmerican Coatings AssociationAmerican Gas AssociationAmerican Petroleum InstituteEdison Electric InstituteFertilizer InstituteInternational Warehouse Logistics AssnInterstate Natural Gas Association of AmericaNational Association of Chemical DistributorsNational Association of ManufacturersNational Industrial Transportation LeagueNational Mining AssociationNational Tank Truck CarriersSociety of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Collectively, trade associations in the coalition have spent more than $60.5 million lobbying around the renewal of CFATS and on other issues since the start of 2023, but McCormick has argued that money should have less influence in politics, which should rely more on common sense and American values. 

The top lobbying spender to sign onto the letter is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $36 million on federal lobbying in the first half of 2023 and over $81 million in 2022 on a wide range of issues. 

The American Chemistry Council has consistently been the chemical industry’s top lobbying spender with the trade association spending over $6.3 million lobbying in the first half of 2023 as it pressed for the reauthorization of CFATS and lobbied on other issues.

The chemical trade association, which boasts over 190 companies among its members, was the industry’s top lobbying organization in the industry for the fourth year in a row in 2022 when it spent a whopping $19.8 million on federal lobbying.

Fires have burned at several chemical facilities in Elizabeth, including the explosive Chemical Control Corporation blaze in 1980 and the 2022 inferno depicted in this photo.

This represents a rare instance where the federal government and the industry that would be impacted are both vying for the renewal of a program that would provide more regulation of the industry but also provide it more resources to put security measures in place.

Eric Byer, CEO of the National Association of Chemical Distributors, has emphasized that the Personnel Surety Program, which screens for potential terrorism ties, is one part of the CFATS program that the chemical industry is struggling to replicate.

“That’s not something we can do from a private-sector perspective,” Byer told Axios.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors spent a more modest $80,000 on federal lobbying in the first half of 2023 and reported lobbying on CFATS as well as other issues. 

Given the overwhelming bipartisan support for the reauthorization of the CFATS program, industry experts and government insiders widely expect Congress to make renewal a priority.

CISA has reportedly been in touch with chemical companies about next steps following the renewal, American Chemistry Council spokesman Scott Jensen told Axios. “It’s still sort of an ongoing process to fully understand what the impact is of CFATS expiring, because this has never happened before,” he said. 

When Congress failed to renew the program in July, the American Chemistry Council issued a statement that “expressed deep concern and disappointment regarding the expiration of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards.”

Across the board, the chemical industry — which is composed of producers of chemicals, plastics, rubber, cleaners, paints and explosives — spent record sums on federal lobbying in 2022 and continued to pay lobbyists tens of millions of dollars to influence policy change, a new OpenSecrets analysis found.

The industry spent about $31.2 in the first half of 2023 with nearly $16.6 in the first quarter and about $14.6 million in the second.  In 2022, the chemical industry spent an all-time record high on federal lobbying — with a total topping $66.1 million.

Other top lobbying spenders in the industry include LyondellBasell Industries and Dow Inc., which each spent about $2.5 million on federal lobbying in the first half of 2023. 

Dow’s spending has dipped in 2023 but LyondellBasell Industries’ recent federal lobbying spending is unprecedentedly high for the Houston-headquartered subsidiary of a Netherlands-incorporated company. In 2022, the chemical company spent over $3.4 million on federal lobbying — an all-time annual record — and is already on track to exceed that amount with more than $2.5 million during the first half of 2023.

The chemical company reported lobbying related to the CFATS program during the first two quarters of this year and has also come out in support of reauthorization.

Dow also reported spending on lobbying related to CFATS program, among other issues.

“None of that spending should be necessary to convince lawmakers to do the right thing, but it is amazing the event after so many companies invested so much money into getting Congress to do what needs to be done, these greedy politicians remained ambivalent to the safety and security of our families,” said McCormick, who expressed hope that more citizens would join her effort to hold politicians accountable by signing up at http://www.DemocratsFor.US or calling her at 732-574-1200.

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