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Our Chemical Facilities Are Vulnerable To Attack

May 25, 2024

Congress Must Act to Secure Them Before Terrorists Strike

If our nation suffers another terrorist attack, it will be hard to argue that the signs weren’t there for us to see. The federal government has expressed growing concern that AI will empower attacks on our water, transportation, and financial systems. The Department of Homeland Security has warned that bad actors are using the technology to develop weapons of mass destruction. We know foreign nationals are illegally crossing our southern border in droves. And the death of Iran’s president could foment international conflict that deepens concerns about attacks in the U.S.

Congress should be taking every measure to secure our nation’s critical infrastructure. Yet when it comes to chemical production facilities, they have left the door wide open.

Last summer, legislators allowed a federal security program protecting chemical plants to expire. I hope it doesn’t take an attack on these facilities to show the vital role they play in producing our energy, food, drinking water, computer chips, medicines, cars—you name it. That’s what makes them such an attractive target for terrorists—and that’s why we should do everything in our power to protect them.

After the September 11th attacks, Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to create the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program (CFATS) to address potential terrorist threats to chemical facilities. This helped DHS identify facilities that might be at risk of a potential attack and set national standards for addressing physical and cyber threats. CFATS also provided companies with access to valuable expertise from DHS and important tools to help prevent bad actors from gaining access. It successfully flagged at least 10 individuals with potential ties to terrorism.

But last July, the Senate blocked the program, allowing it to lapse for the first time in 15 years. More than 80,000 individuals in the chemical industry have not been vetted against the FBI’s terrorist screening database.

Losing CFATS is like the Transportation Security Administration losing its ability to secure air travel. To be sure, airports and airlines do their own screening. But a federal agency cross-referencing passengers with central databases makes it much more likely that a terrorist trying to evade detection will be stopped before boarding a plane.

The chemical industry hasn’t been shy about opposing excessive federal regulations, but this is one program that has proven effective. In fact, a recent survey of American Chemistry Council members found that 96 percent support restoring the program, and 85 percent are concerned that failure to do so will compromise security. And this strong support for the program extends beyond industry. Law enforcement organizations, emergency responders, and labor unions have also called on Congress to restore CFATS.

Our member companies are fully committed to securing their facilities, but the chemical industry should not have to go it alone. Weakening our chemical sector’s security only helps our adversaries. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation last year to keep CFATS active and keep our chemical facilities safe. The Senate must act before it’s too late.

Chris Jahn is President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.
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