by Bonner Cohen
The Department of Homeland Security's recent "Code-Orange" alert was a grim reminder of the ever-present threat posed by terrorism. Fortunately, the alert passed with no harm done.
Indeed, the heightened awareness shown by security officials, law-enforcement personnel, and the private sector is a clear and welcome indication that post 9/11 America is taking terrorism seriously. And as the attack on the Pentagon shows, Washington, D.C. is a prime target for terrorist deeds. To ensure that the nation's capital is spared another chapter of carnage, it is imperative vigilance be maintained, and that efforts to safeguard Washington don't inadvertently play into the hands of terrorists.
Currently, the D.C. Council is considering
a bill that would, with few exceptions, prohibit the shipment
of hazardous materials by truck or rail through the District
of Columbia. The ban would force freight trains carrying hazardous
materials to be rerouted to the Norfolk Southern rail line about
50 miles west of the District. Trucks transporting such chemicals
would have to use the Beltway.
For one thing, the bill runs counter to the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which was created to prevent state and local governments from interfering with the legal transport of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. In enacting the federal statute, Congress recognized the vital role hazardous materials and the products and technologies developed there from play in commerce, public health, and national security.
Moreover, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a massive effort is already underway to secure the District of Columbia against the threat of terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, capitol police, park police, local fire and rescue personnel, and the private sector have developed vulnerability assessments and security plans that apply to fixed installations and all means of transportation. Some of these measures are obvious such as restricted access to certain areas; others are invisible to the naked eye. Together, they have to date kept the District safe from terrorist attacks.
The purpose of transporting hazardous materials is to get them into the hands of end-users who transform them into useful products that do such things as purify drinking water, treat diseases, protect crops, and provide critical assets in the war on terrorism.
Cipro ®, for example, is a chlorine-based antibiotic used to treat people exposed to anthrax. No one knows when or if there will be another anthrax incident in Washington or elsewhere. What we do know, however, is that adequate supplies of Cipro ® need to be on hand just in case. And you can't send Cipro ® over the Internet.
This is why rerouting freight trains
with tank cars away from Washington is a bad idea. It would force
them to travel a greater distance and actually increase the statistical
possibility of an accidental chemical release. The risk of a
chemical release, whether by accident or as a result of a terrorist
attack, would simply shift from one community to another. Furthermore,
the circuitous route will only delay the arrival of the materials
to their final destination. These are just the kind of self-defeating
disruptions of our daily lives that terrorist organizations want
us to carry out.
It is revealing that the bill pending
before the D.C. Council is supported by -- of all organizations
-- Greenpeace. This is the same Greenpeace that, in the aftermath
of the 9/11 attacks, launched a campaign providing detailed maps
and information about the storage of chemicals at specific facilities
around the country. Greenpeace and other irresponsible environmental
groups went so far as to post this information on the Internet
despite concerns from law-enforcement officials and emergency-response
personnel that they were, in effect, providing a "road map"
for terrorists in selecting targets.
Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.