Friday, October 06, 2006

The little train safety bill that couldn't:

AP reports:

"As many as 17,000 people were urged to flee homes on the outskirts of Raleigh early Friday as flames shot from a burning hazardous waste plant and a chlorine cloud rose high over the area. Eighteen people, many of them law enforcement officers, were taken to emergency rooms with respiratory problems, hospital officials said. EQ Industrial Services handles a wide array of industrial waste, from paints to solvents, and houses chemicals such as chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, sulfur and fertilizer."

Gosh, sounds like a perfect target for a terrorist group, doesn't it? But I'm sure EQ is on the up and up with the law, right? AP: "In March, the state Department of Natural Resources had fined EQ $32,000 for six violations at the plant, including failing to 'maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of a sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste . . . which could threaten human health or the environment. "

[Don't worry investors, this won't affect your bottom line. The EQ web site says, "EQ companies offer a written certificate of indemnification shielding its customers against legal claims and regulatory fines incurred due to an error committed by EQ, its officers, or associates EQ companies carry the highest level of liability insurance in the industry. This policy, underwritten by large third party insurers, offers $27 million in cumulative liability coverage.]

But Congress is on the job to make sure chemical plants operate more safely, right? Well sort of; from what I understand this year they basically gave the chemical industry another pass. US PIRG attorney Alex Fidis said in a press release that, "These security measures [In the latest bill] have consistently been referred to as ‘better than nothing,’ but in reality they are worse than nothing because our nation now has the equivalent to imposing shopping mall-level security at dangerous chemical plants."

The press release goes on: "The final provisions authorize the Department of Homeland Security to regulate only the chemical plants it determines present a 'high risk,' while exempting all other plants from any security regulations. Regulated facilities must develop and submit security plans, but the Department is explicitly prohibited from requiring any specific security measures, leaving security improvement decisions in the hands of the chemical industry. It is also unclear whether the provisions will displace more complete state security laws."

So you see nothing has really changed. Five years after 9/11 the government is still dithering to please their chemical industry benefactors. In 2002 PIRG reported that: "Currently, millions of Americans are at risk of serious injury or death if a chemical facility becomes the target of an attack. Specifically, 123 facilities across America put at least one million people at such a risk, and 700 facilities endanger at least 100,000 Americans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Investigations by federal agencies and newspapers have found that security at these facilities ranges from poor to nonexistent."

And as bad as this is; there are also trucks, trains and barges moving all over the country, passing through high population areas, carrying toxic chemicals that could kill thousands of Americans. Richard Falkenrath, formerly one of President Bush's top advisers on homeland security told Congress last year that, "I'm sorry to say since 9/11 we have essentially done nothing in this area."

According to a report on NOW: "American intelligence agencies have been aware for several years that Al-Qaeda is interested in targeting U.S. railroads. In 2002 the F.B.I. found photographs of U.S. railroad engines, cars and crossings in Al Qaeda's possession."

According to the 9/11 Commission the administration has allocated only $145 million for rail security and for FY 07 and the administration has proposed eliminating the $150 million from the Rail and Transit Security Grant program.

So, the next time you see a train going by within within severla miles of you, it might be a good idea to make sure your're stoked up on duct tape and plastic sheeting. With W. & Co. in charge you're pretty much on your own. I mean, what's more important, your safety or CSX' profits?


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