Business, Community, Congress, Latest News, U.S. President, West Virginia Legislature

What does CISA letter regarding Mylan plant mean? No one knows for sure

MORGANTOWN – The coveted CISA letter acknowledging the Morgantown Viatris plant’s critical infrastructure designation is in hand – several hands – but no one really knows what that means.

“I am thrilled that we got the letter,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who was the first of several public officials to write to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency asking it to grant that designation, in hopes of keeping the plant operating after its July 31 closure date.

Fleischauer is remaining optimistic about the implications of CISA’s response. “There are opportunities and options available to maintain production of American manufacturing of pharmaceuticals in Morgantown,” she said Tuesday.

Viatris provided this statement to The Dominion Post on Tuesday: “All manufacturing operations at Chestnut Ridge ceased by July 31, 2021, as scheduled, and all post-closure activities are proceeding as planned.”

After Fleischauer, House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. David McKinley also appealed to CISA. Gov. Jim Justice sent a similar request to President Biden.

Fleischauer, Manchin and McKinley all shared copies of their response from CISA, all dated July 30 – the day before the plant closure. (Time didn’t allow The Dominion Post to reach out to Hanshaw or Justice.)

All three responses were essentially identical: “We assure you that the critical infrastructure designation for critical manufacturing facilities, such as the Viatris facility in Morgantown, WV mentioned in your letter, will remain in place.”

CISA Director Jen Easterly goes on to say the the COVID situation is fluid but it will continue to work with the critical infrastructure community to provide supportive tools analysis regarding its guidance.

Take note that Easterly promises nothing, and that the critical infrastructure designation was already in place. CISA’s work was targeted at keeping essential workers, businesses and industries operating during COVID-19, and her letter is COVID specific: “to support state, local and industry partners in identifying critical infrastructure and the workers essential to ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety as well as economic and national security.”

The idea that public health and national security might have a broader application was key in the effort, previously reported by The Dominion Post, to secure an American buyer for a shuttered antibiotic plant in Bristol, Tenn.

The same hope that powered the Tennessee effort is alive here. “I think there are a lot of things to think about,” Fleischauer said. “I don’t want that equipment going out of the country.”

She wonders if the plant’s critical infrastructure designation might help lure a new buyer. She mentioned the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which provides funding and tools for public health medical emergencies, including such things as pandemic influenza and emerging infectious diseases.

Manchin and McKinley both declined to speculate on what CISA’s letter might mean for the future. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito previously expressed doubt about CISA’s ability to do anything, saying, “

It is my understanding that CISA does not have the authority to designate individual companies as critical infrastructure or essential to COVID-19 response. However, I intend to request that the governor and state leaders, who have broader authority, do so under their existing authorities.”

Joe Gouzd, president of United Steelworkers Local 8-957, which represents about 850 of the plant’s workers, also isn’t sure what the letter might portend. “The total effect of it remains to be seen. Will it do any good,” he said.

At least, the effort to involve CISA, he said, raised some national awareness regarding national infrastructure and defense. The critical infrastructure designation might allow the plant to keep producing for Medicare, Medicaid, the VA and so on.

Gouzd said the decommissioning process is under way, but the plant’s machinery is already calibrated to manufacture specific molecules. A new operator bringing in new machines would have to go through a long regulatory process to get them ready to make and dispense pills.

He speculated, “Aren’t you basically going against the government designation by continually moving machines and trying crate them and send them off?”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp EMAIL