Cities Tackle Chemical Transportation Security

When a freight train accident took eight lives in South Carolina earlier this year because of unsafe and uninspected train cars carrying toxic materials, it heightened concerns about chemical security in our trains and trucks. Cities across the nation have begun addressing serious deficiencies on this homeland security issue because the federal government has done little. Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Baltimore are all considering legislation to mitigate the risks of shipping hazardous materials through their heavily populated centers.

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Chemical Security Legislation to Address Transport Issues Introduced

Sen. Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-DE) introduced a comprehensive chemical security bill addressing shipments of hazardous materials entitled "The Hazardous Materials Vulnerability Reduction Act of 2005" (S. 1256) on July 16. The bill, which comes after a flurry of recent legislative activity at the local level on chemical shipment security, promotes greater cooperation between agencies, as well as more input from state and local officials in securing hazardous chemicals.

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OMB Watch Wins in Court for Access to Risk Management Data

After almost four years of silence, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released updated information on Risk Management Plans (RMPs) filed by facilities with large quantities of hazardous chemicals onsite, in order to inform communities about the risks. The agency released the information to OMB Watch after the organization sued EPA for failing to respond to its request filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OMB Watch has posted the executive summaries of the RMPs on its Right to Know Network website.

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Congressional Report Uncovers Chemical Security Risks Throughout the Country

An analysis prepared for Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reveals that chemical plants endanger millions of Americans in every state. The report demonstrates widespread problems with chemical security and highlights the need for a national policy that will reduce these risks.

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Past Government Secrecy Takes its Toll on Steelworkers

Proponents of government secrecy would do well to consider the story of Bethlehem Steel when pushing for greater secrecy in the name of homeland security. The federal government admitted in 2000, that it had knowingly exposed thousands of workers in steel mills to radiation without any protection or warning during the 1940s and 50s. The workers, kept in the dark about the exposure because of national security concerns, have paid for years -- at times with their very lives.

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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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