Washington, DC, Mayor Anthony
Williams has signed a bill that will prohibit the shipment of certain hazardous
materials within two miles of the U.S. Capitol building.
The measure – called
an emergency bill – received the mayor’s blessing Tuesday, Feb. 15. DC Councilwoman
Kathy Patterson, the bill’s chief sponsor, said that measure would put the ban in place for 90 days from the
date it was signed.
A vote on a
so-called “temporary bill,” which would extend the ban for 225 days, should
take place by March 1, Patterson said, and it is expected to pass.
Because of the unique way that the District of Columbia
works, the bill must be passed three ways. In addition to the emergency and
temporary bills, a third, “permanent” measure must also be passed. That bill is
in the city’s Public Works and Environment Committee, where the chair of the
committee, Council member Carol Schwartz, is opposed to the measure.
“It’s just a matter of trying to work with her to get the
permanent bill to move forward,” Patterson said.
However, the proposed hazmat shipment ban has other hurdles
to cross as well. CSX Railway, which operates tracks near the Capitol, has
challenged the proposal on several fronts.
On Feb. 7, the railroad filed a petition with the Surface
Transportation Board, claiming the city’s ordinance was pre-empted by a clause
of the ICC Termination Act of 1995. In the filing, the railroad claimed that
10,500 rail cars could be affected each year.
However, DC officials said in a filing with the same board
that the effect on the city would be much more significant.
“A terrorist attack on a truck or a train containing
hazardous materials in the area demarcated in the challenged legislation would
be catastrophic,” DC officials wrote in their filing. “The Council of the District
of Columbia, in two public hearings, heard testimony that such an attack could
cause tens of thousands of deaths and economic impacts of upwards of $5
The railroad has also filed a suit in the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia, asking judges to declare the ordinance “invalid,” saying it contradicts the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution
and violates several federal laws regarding hazmat shipments.
Patterson’s measure, titled the “Terrorism Prevention in
Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Act of 2005,” would not ban all
hazardous materials, said Penny Pagano, chief of staff for Patterson. Instead,
it is intended to keep large shipments of substances she described as
“ultrahazardous,” such as chlorine and propane, away from the center of the
The proposal would require carriers shipping specific
hazardous materials to receive a permit from the DC Department of
Transportation before the cargo can be moved through the 2.2-mile-wide zone
around the Capitol building, according to a news release from the city.
Shipments could also receive permission to move through the zone in certain
While trucks would be included
under the proposed prohibition, the main target of the bill was not trucks, but
rather rail shipments, some of which come within blocks of the Capitol.
The text of the ordinance
specifically mentions that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “stated
that the department had not used and would not use its authority to mandate
re-routing of hazardous rail cargo.”
The list of materials covered under the proposed ordinance
is limited, Pagano told Land Line. It
does not include flammable liquids such as gasoline or diesel fuel, for
example. It does include:
1, Division 1.1 and 1.2, explosives in a
quantity greater than 500 kilograms;
2, Division 2.1 flammable gases in a
quantity greater than 10,000 liters;
2, Division 2.3 poisonous gases in a
quantity greater than 500 liters; and
6 Division 6.1 poisonous materials in amounts over 1,000 kilograms.
“They narrowed this to really
prohibit large shipments of certain extremely hazardous materials,” Pagano
– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor