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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 256. A bill to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop regulations regarding the transportation of extremely hazardous materials, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Hazardous Materials Vulnerability Reduction Act of 2005. It is regretful that I am introducing this legislation, as the Department of Homeland Security has all of the legal authorities necessary to undertake the steps set out in this legislation. However, nearly 4 years after September 11, the Department of Homeland Security is still not doing its job. Quite frankly, officials at the Department of Homeland Security are either unaware, or even worse, they are purposely ignoring a grave threat to our cities. Hazardous materials being transported by 90-ton rail tankers has been described as a ``uniquely dangerous'' threat--comparable only to a nuclear or biological attack. According to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation, these materials pose special risks during transportation because their uncontrolled release can endanger significant numbers of people. In addition, there have been countless reports of lax security along the urban area rail routes they travel. Nevertheless, the administration has done nothing to reduce this threat. The legislation that I am introducing today will require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a comprehensive, risk-based strategy for reducing the threat of a terrorist attack on extremely hazardous materials in our Nation's high-threat cities. The steps set out in this legislation should have been taken years ago, but it is clear that the Department of Homeland Security will not act. I hope that my colleagues will join me in passing this legislation to require them to act.

Within just a few miles of where we stand right now, rail tankers carrying the world's most dangerous chemicals are being transported over tracks that are not sufficiently safeguarded or monitored. According to Richard A. Falkenrath, a former homeland security adviser to President Bush, this threat stands out ``as acutely vulnerable and almost uniquely dangerous.'' He is not alone in this opinion. The Homeland Security Council released a report in July 2004 indicating that an explosion, in an urban area, of a rail tanker carrying chlorine could kill up to 17,500 individuals and could require the hospitalization of nearly 100,000. An analysis by the Naval Research Laboratory depicted a more troubling scenario when it studied the potential for damage if an attack occurred while an event was being held on the National Mall, such as the annual Fourth of July celebration. According to this analysis, ``over 100,000 people could be seriously harmed or even killed in the first half hour.'' Let me say that again, according to a study by the Naval Research Laboratory ``over 100,000 people could be seriously harmed or killed in the first half hour.''

Terrorist groups already understand the potential impact of such an attack. The FBI and CIA have uncovered evidence that terrorists have targeted chemical shipments, and just a few months ago during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, FBI Director Mueller indicated that threats to rail remain a key concern. This should not be a surprise. Rail systems are the most frequently attacked targets worldwide, and the wide open nature of their architecture makes them vulnerable at many points. In other words, rail systems present many soft targets. Incidentally, I have introduced separate legislation in the last three Congresses that would provide $1.2 billion to eliminate some of the vulnerabilities in our rail system; however, this legislation has not been supported by the Bush administration and it has not passed Congress. In fact, the administration has not asked for a single dime specifically for rail security. This is very troubling because we know that the modus operandi for many terrorist groups is to cause mass casualties and spectacular damage. According to the Chlorine Institute, an attack on a 90-ton tanker could create a toxic cloud 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in an urban area this toxic cloud could extend 14 miles. Can you imagine the psychological impact of a toxic cloud of poisonous gas expanding and moving slowly over one of our major metropolitan areas--leaving death and chaos in its path?

Given the potential damage and the direct threat against chemical rail tankers, you would think that the Bush administration has been busy reducing or eliminating this threat. Unfortunately, as with so many other areas involving our homeland security this does not appear to be the case. In January testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Mr. Falkenrath stated that ``to date, the Federal Government has not made a material reduction in the inherent vulnerability of hazardous chemical targets inside the United States.'' He went on to say that this should be the highest priority for the Department of Homeland Security. A Wall Street Journal article written last year--``Graffiti Artists Put Their Mark on War Against Terrorism''--provides a chilling example of the exposure of these chemical tankers. The reporter followed a graffiti artist to a railroad tunnel along tracks that run near I-395 not far from where we stand. As he was conducting the interview, a tanker carrying dangerous chemicals rolled by on an adjacent track. The graffiti artist noted that ``it wouldn't be hard at all for someone like Al Qaeda to wait right here for the right poison and bang! Good-bye Washington.''

This threat and the lack of action by the Department of Homeland Security has led many city officials to consider local legislation to ban shipments of hazardous materials. Right now, a dispute between the District of Columbia and the transportation companies joined by the Bush administration is being litigated in Federal courts. Other cities, such as Philadelphia and Boston are considering similar action. As a former county executive, I am sympathetic to the plight of local officials, and they should certainly be allowed to exercise their police powers in appropriate situations. I believe, and I am sure most local officials would agree, that it would be better to have a national, comprehensive policy on this issue. This is simply too important to have a patchwork strategy. The Department of Homeland Security should have already done this. Unfortunately, they have not, and this legislation will require the Department to take some basic, fundamental steps to enhance safety for the American people.

The legislation that I am introducing requires the Department of Homeland Security to issue regulations establishing a national policy for dealing with the transport of the world's most dangerous chemicals by rail through our high threat cities. It will require the Department to develop protocols for the notification of State and local officials, and it will require the Department to study and report to Congress regarding security enhancing measures such as secondary containment technologies, GPS tracking of shipments, and the feasibility of smaller, more secure tankers. The bill also includes a provision requiring the Department of Homeland Security to work with State and local officials, the rail industry and other stakeholders to develop a strategy for rerouting a small fraction of the most dangerous materials around our most threatened city. It is estimated that only 5 percent of all hazardous materials shipped by rail will be subjected to this regulation. Finally, the bill will provide $100 million to State and local governments and rail operators to purchase safety equipment and provide training to first responders and rail workers who are likely to discover and respond to an incident involving hazardous materials. An additional $10 million will be made available to the National Labor College to provide further training for rail workers.

I realize that the rail industry has invested considerable amounts of its own money to enhance security since September 11, and this legislation is not an indictment of their efforts. I have been pushing to get more Federal funding for rail security for years, but this plea has fallen on deaf ears within the administration. I realize that we cannot eliminate every conceivable risk, but at a time when we have troops overseas fighting the war on terror and our Nation's law enforcement agencies are on high alert, the least that we should do is ensure that we have a national strategy for handling a threat that is comparable in scope to a nuclear or biological attack. I will close by again referring to the grave warning set out in the study by the Naval Research Laboratory--``over 100,000 people could be seriously harmed or even killed in the first half hour'' of an attack. The danger is simply too great to ignore, and I ask my colleagues to join me in passing this critical legislation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

S. 1256


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