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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at 2023 Chemical Security Summit

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at 2023 Chemical Security Summit

Release Date: August 29, 2023

Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at his keynote address to the 2023 Chemical Security Summit in Arlington, Virginia on August 29, 2023.

Thank you all for the work that you do and for being a part of this summit, taking the time to be here in person. I know there are many people participating virtually as well.

A few years ago, one of our country’s chemical manufacturers contacted CISA, our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, to flag an unusual order of a seemingly innocuous chemical that had come in. CISA’s mandate enabled them to respond to the inquiry, but it was their CFATS authority that enabled them to dig deeper. CISA investigators were able to link the unusual order to another separately-reported, stolen batch of chemicals – a case that, on its own, appeared to local law enforcement to be nothing more than a routine burglary.

I’m not at liberty, of course, to tell you what chemical had been ordered. I cannot tell you what chemical had been stolen. I cannot tell you exactly what happens when those two chemicals are combined and set off in a large crowd of people

But I can tell you that the initial call to CISA – the one that kicked off their investigation of these seemingly unrelated events – came from a high-risk chemical facility, in a major metropolitan area, that was just weeks away from hosting a major marathon featuring tens of thousands of runners and spectators. I can tell you that CISA investigators, who were well-versed in the Oklahoma City bombing, the West Fertilizer Company explosion, and the Boston Marathon bombing, knew better than to treat this confluence of events as a harmless coincidence. I can tell you that their CFATS authority enabled CISA, local law enforcement, and Federal agents to better coordinate and launch a national security response. Most importantly, I can tell you that, weeks later, the marathon went off without a hitch, with the participants and spectators unaware that there might have been a security risk materialized.

Stories of this kind have come across the Secretary of Homeland Security’s desk countless times since CFATS regulations were promulgated in 2007. I have been briefed on many of them myself, during my time as Deputy Secretary, and since being sworn in as the Secretary in 2021. Few such events are ever reported in the news. But countless lives have undoubtedly been saved by the collaboration Congress and CFATS have long established among CISA, DHS, private industry, and law enforcement.

It is a worthy and important legacy, and a critical plank of our national security apparatus. Both have now been jeopardized because some have declined, for the first time, to reauthorize CFATS authorities.

Already, CISA has been effectively barred from determining who is accessing 3,242 high-risk chemical facilities, or monitoring whether or not facilities are stockpiling dangerous chemicals. Already, we have been barred from enforcing penalties on facilities that violate safety standards. Even though the chemical industry at large supports CFATS reauthorization and is pushing Congress for its reauthorization, already, a few chemical facilities have decided not to move ahead with security investments and enhancements because of the expiration of the regulation. More have expressed concern about an interest in doing so, should reauthorization languish in the Senate much longer

The risk that terrorists could access and weaponize the dangerous chemicals produced in these facilities increases by the day.

I wanted to join you this morning and speak at this Summit to make this point, and to make it very clearly: the safety and security of 3,242 high-risk chemicals facilities across all 50 states, the safety and security of our communities, and the safety and security of the American people are not political bargaining chips. They are not a frivolous use of government resources. Our national security has not been, and cannot become, a partisan endeavor.

The chemical threat environment is rapidly evolving, as the discussions featured throughout this Summit are a testament to. CFATS is the foundation of all those chemical security efforts, publicly and privately, now and in the future.

The Senate must reauthorize CFATS as soon as it is back in session. Time is not our ally when it comes to confronting terrorists, chemical weapons, and chemical threats. CFATS reauthorization passed the House of Representatives by vote of 409-1. Reauthorization is popular. It is bipartisan. It is common sense. And it is critical

I am grateful to all of you here who have made this point, repeatedly and clearly, throughout the last month and throughout this Summit, including Director Easterly, the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – she wrote and published an op-ed earlier this week. I am proud to be here with you today, and add my voice to this important public chorus. I will continue to do so until this essential component of our national security is implemented. I hope you will echo that as well.

Thank you very much for everything you do, day in and day out, to keep our country safe. Thanks so much.


Last Updated: 08/29/2023
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