Monday, July 2, 2007

Iowa Senators Upset About Propane Security Rules

An Associated Press article tells about how the Senators from Iowa realized that the new chemical facility security regulations were going to affect many farmers from their state. The provision that caught their attention is the Screening Threshold Quantity (STQ) of 7,500 lbs for Propane in the proposed Appendix A to 6 CFR part 27. It seems that lots of farmers use Propane for drying grain and have tanks that hold more than 7,500 lbs.

Of course, the Propane Industry initiated a significant letter writing campaign during the comment period that ended May 9th to call attention to this potential problem. While DHS has yet to release the final version of Appendix A, the procedures they published for completing the Top Screen portion of the online Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT) continues to list the same STQ, so it seems likely that when the final version of Appendix A is published the STQ will still be 7,500 lbs.

What the regulations call for is that any facility with more than the STQ amount of any of the 300+ chemicals listed in the Appendix must complete the Top Screen portion of the CSAT. That information will then be used by DHS to determine if the facility is a high risk chemical facility. High risk chemical facilities will then be required to complete the other requirements of the new security regulations. Those not deemed to be a high risk can then essentially continue to ignore security concerns.

DHS has not published the details of how they will determine which facilities are high risk facilities. They decided that that information would give too much guidance to potential terrorists. DHS has said that they will look at more than just the amount of chemicals on-site; they will also look at the potential consequences of a successful attack. Thus a farmer with a tank out in the middle of an Iowa corn field is likely only to be a risk to his family, not a terrorist target, therefore not a high risk facility. A propane tank in the middle of town may be a terrorist target, thus a high risk facility. The only way that DHS can make the determination is for the Top Screen information to be completed.

The completion of the Top Screen will be a minor administrative burden. It should not be beyond the competency of any one capable of managing a decent sized farm. There is, however, a way to consolidate that administrative burden. The propane supply company could complete the Top Screen for their customers. All that it takes is for the customer to appoint the supplier as the Preparer for CSAT submissions during the registration process, and even that can be done by the supplier, only requiring a signature by the customer.

Things get a little more complicated if DHS determines that the propane tank makes the farmer (or whatever propane customer) a high risk facility, since a Security Vulnerability Assessment and a Site Security Plan will then be required. Even then, the supplier (who has a vested interest in the customer's continued use of propane) can assist with the remainder of the process, most of which will be cookie cutter security in any case.

A tank containing 7,500 pounds of propane is a potential bomb, easily detonated by even a poorly trained terrorist. If that tank is in a high-profile location, it would certainly be a good terrorist target. Potential terrorist targets must be secured, that was the central message that we took away from the 9/11 attacks. Rather than trying to exempt targets because of the political pull of their owners, we need to try to find reasonable methods of protecting these potential targets. Airline passengers put up with many indignities and inconveniences every time they get on an airplane; Iowa farmers can certainly learn to deal with these regulations.

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