Citizens Protest New Jersey's Proposed Homeland Security Secrecy

Workers and environmentalists picketed outside the office of New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey on June 22 to protest proposed changes to the state's Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Harvey has proposed exempting various facilities from the public records law, including chemical plants, in the interest of homeland security. Protesters expressed concern that the new exemptions are too broad and would conceal from the public important information about toxins in their communities.

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Bush Administration Endorses Chemical Security Requirements

OMB Watch applauds the Bush Administration's reversal of position on federal security requirements for chemical plants. Previously the administration supported industry's position that government involvement was unnecessary and that company-sponsored voluntary security measures were sufficient. In a June 15 hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finally supported federal chemical security legislation.

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Nuclear Commission Allows Access to Classified Information, Maybe

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a final rule June 2, allowing individuals or organizations access to classified information on agency licensing activities if they can demonstrate a "need to know." The agency originally published an identical final rule Dec. 15, 2004, but withdrew it after negative comments.

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Journalists Find Chemical Plants Insecure

The New York Times recently uncovered startling security flaws at chemical plants in Dallas and New Orleans after a writer "milled about" for some time around the fence line of plants before even being approached by facility security personnel. Reporters have regularly penetrated chemical plant security with great ease, notwithstanding claims by the chemical industry that it is voluntarily improving security.

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Appeals Court Overturns D.C. Hazmat Ban

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against Washington, DC (D.C.), on its law requiring that shipment of hazardous chemicals be rerouted around the nation's capital. The three-judge panel released its unanimous opinion May 3, overturning a lower court's decision to uphold the ban. The city may either appeal the panel's opinion to the full appeals court or return to the lower court for a hearing on the law.

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Chemical Security Remains an Unaddressed Problem

An April 27 panel of government officials and security experts told the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that chemical security remains a looming problem that the federal government refuses to address. The same day the House Committee on Homeland Security proved that point by rejecting an amendment to improve security related to shipments of dangerous chemicals. Also the same day, President Bush called for development of new oil refineries on old military bases but did not address the existing gaps in chemical security.

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Appeals Court Puts D.C. Hazmat Ban on Hold

A federal appeals court granted CSX an emergency stay to prevent D.C. from implementing a new law prohibiting hazardous cargo rail shipments near the U.S. Capitol. On Monday, May 18, the District Court had upheld D.C.'s ban, prompting CSX to file an immediate appeal and seek the emergency injunction. The court also ordered Washington, DC, and the Sierra Club, another plaintiff in the case, to file briefs by Friday, May 22.

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Homeland Security Won't Remove Hazmat Signs

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced April 7 that it will drop a proposal to remove warning placards from railcars carrying hazardous materials that pose a toxic inhalation risk. The decision came after firefighters and other first responders warned that removing the signs could endanger those transportation workers and emergency personnel who respond to accidents involving hazardous materials, and communities through which the shipments travel. DHS was considering the removal of placards due to terrorism concerns.

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Disclosure Helps Chemical Security

The Wisconsin county of Waukesha has addressed chemical safety and security concerns with reporting and disclosure requirements stronger then those established by the federal government. The county has long used public disclosure of risks and hazards as a means to reduce and manage risks from toxic chemicals. A recent congressional report supports the county's approach concluding that reporting and disclosing chemical inventories and associated hazards promotes risk reduction.

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Judge Upholds D.C. Hazmat Ban

On April 18, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan upheld a new Washington, DC, law prohibiting hazardous cargo rail shipments near the U.S. Capitol. Sullivan said that the District has a right to protect itself from an accident involving hazardous chemicals, because the federal government has failed to do so.

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