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Newsday - House OKs Bill Regulating Fertilizer

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Location: Washington, DC


Newsday - House OKs Bill Regulating Fertilizer

BY CAROL EISENBERG
Newsday

Three years ago, undercover NYPD cops bought 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate at retail outlets both in and out of New York, and built a bomb big enough to blow up a skyscraper.

The point of the exercise, called Operation Kaboom, was to show how easy it still was to buy an ingredient that terrorists have repeatedly used to kill and maim hundreds - even a decade after Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer with fuel oil to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Yesterday, the Democratic-controlled House voted to tighten control over the fertilizer, culminating several years of efforts by Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, and several other sponsors.

A companion measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), already passed the Senate. The bills are expected to be reconciled and sent to the president.

"This is a very significant step towards making the country safer," King said yesterday. "Ammonium nitrate is the weapon of choice for terrorists. It was used to blow up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In March 2004, the British seized a half a ton of it from a commercial storage locker in London in a terror plot there. The 17 people locked up in Canada last year were planning to use it."

If signed into law, the legislation will require the Homeland Security Department to check all buyers and sellers of the fertilizer against a terror watch list within 72 hours of their application.

The American Farm Bureau agreed to support the bill if an appeals process was built into the law that would also take no longer than 72 hours.

New York Deputy Public Safety Secretary Michael Balboni, who introduced regulation of the fertilizer in New York when he was a state senator, called the bill "way overdue at the federal level."

"That is the only bill that [New York Police Chief] Ray Kelly ever personally approached me on to tell me it really made a difference in the safety of New York City," he said.

New York Deputy Police Commissioner Richard A. Falkenrath revealed details of Operation Kaboom last year to urge lawmakers to tighten control of the fertilizer.

"It has become commonplace to ask why, five years after Sept. 11, certain security enhancements have not been implemented," Falkenrath said then. "In this case, the question is, why has nothing been done about ammonium nitrate more than 10 years after the Oklahoma City bombing?"


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