Web Date: March 14, 2007
Congress At Odds Over Hazmat Shipments
The Senate defeated an effort Tuesday to reroute hazardous chemical shipments away from population centers and other areas seen as potential targets for terrorist attacks, but the House kept the industry-opposed measure alive.
By a 73-25 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) to a broad homeland security bill that would have required railroads to transport highly hazardous chemicals around any high-threat corridor unless no practical alternative routes exist.
"Right now, we have 90-ton tankers carrying toxic chemicals right past some of our largest cities. We are vulnerable, we know it, and we know how to fix it," Biden said in a statement on the Senate floor.
Chemical shippers and the freight railroad industry lobbied against the proposal, arguing that a rerouting requirement would create new security hazards. Forced rerouting would "add hundreds of miles and additional days to hazmat shipments with the resulting exposure occurring on more circuitous and less suitable routes," the American Chemistry Council and the Association of American Railroads stated in a joint letter to the Senate.
But the House Homeland Security Committee agreed to include a similar hazmat rerouting provision in separate legislation that would establish federal requirements for rail and mass transit security, clearing the way for the measure's consideration by the full House.
The committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that would require rail carriers to reroute "security sensitive materials," such as chlorine and propane, around high-threat urban areas whenever a more secure route exists.
"Whether it's an accident or an al Qaeda attack, we need to make the shipments of deadly chemicals more secure," Markey said.
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