Congressman wants more restrictions on DC hazmat shipments

| Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Massachusetts congressman has taken up the cause of District of Columbia officials who are trying to ban hazmat shipments near the U.S. Capitol building.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, introduced legislation, called the Extremely Hazardous Materials Transportation Security Act of 2005, March 17. According to a statement on Markey’s Web site, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to reroute shipments of highly hazardous materials around areas that raise particular security concerns – such as the nation’s capital or other possible terrorist targets – when a safer route is available.

“Across the country, enough chlorine to kill 100,000 people in half an hour is routinely contained in a single rail tanker car that rolls right through crowded urban centers without adequate security protections,” said Markey, a senior member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Sen. Jon Corzine, D-NJ, reportedly plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

While the bill addresses all shipments of hazardous materials, its wording and Markey’s statements indicate that it is primarily targeted at rail transportation.

In addition to its rerouting requirements, Markey’s bill would also place a number of other restrictions on shippers and transporters of hazardous materials. They include:

  • Increasing the physical security measures – such as additional security guards and better technology – for hazmat shipments.
  • Compelling railroads to use tanker cars that better resist being punctured.
  • Requiring that transportation companies train employees who work with hazmat shipments.
  • Protecting whistleblowers who report security or safety problems.
  • Requiring increased coordination between the industry, law enforcement and other emergency personnel so they are notified before toxic chemicals are transported through their jurisdictions.

The bill was spurred in part by an effort by city officials in Washington, DC, to prohibit the shipment of certain hazardous materials within two miles of the U.S. Capitol building. DC Mayor Anthony Williams has signed that bill, which would put the ban into place for 90 days – Feb. 15, DC Councilwoman Kathy Patterson, the bill’s chief sponsor, said.

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 be passed.

“The DC vote may be the first,” Markey said, “but it won’t be the last.”

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