Judges delay enforcement of DC hazmat ban

| 4/20/2005

The District of Columbia’s quest to stop hazardous materials shipments within two miles of the Capitol Building hit two snags this week.

A federal appeals court acted Wednesday, April 20, temporarily putting a stop to the District’s ban on the shipments, which was passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Anthony A. Williams Feb. 15. The District’s Department of Transportation put rules into effect enforcing the ban only eight days before the court’s ruling, and they were scheduled to go into effect Wednesday.

The court ruling came in response to an appeal filed by CSX Railroad Monday, April 18, CSX officials said in a statement. While the DC ordinance mentions all hazmat shipments, the controversy has centered on rail shipments moving through CSX’s network.

The appeals court noted that the stay was not a ruling on the merits of the railroad’s motion. A hearing in the case could come as early as Monday, April 25, The Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put a notice on the Federal Register April 20 regarding the shipments. In the notice, the agency asked for public comments on “whether federal hazardous materials transportation law pre-empts highway routing requirements of the District of Columbia in restricting transportation of certain hazardous materials.”

The notice indicated that after officials at FMCSA review the comments, they will issue an administrative ruling in the case. The ruling was requested by the ATA, which opposes the DC ordinance.

The conflict over hazmat shipments started earlier this year when city officials in Washington, DC, passed a bill sponsored by DC Councilmember Kathy Patterson to prohibit the shipments.

In late March Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, joined in the battle taking it to the federal level. He introduced legislation to the House of Representatives called the Extremely Hazardous Materials Transportation Security Act of 2005. His 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, according to a statement on Markey’s Web site.

In early April, that a federal judge stepped into the controversy, hoping to bring CSX and the city of Washington to a compromise over the shipments, The Post reported. Under the plan proposed by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, for 30 days, the city would not enforce its ban, and CSX would cease the shipments while both sides met to reach a compromise.