Issue Position: Protecting Our Homeland
Five years after 9/11, our country is still unprepared for a terrorist attack. From improving security for our transit systems and chemical plants, to increasing cargo screening in our airports and seaports, the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have been underfunded and ignored. The 9/11 Commission gave the government five F's and 12 D's on the implementation of its recommendations. Senator Obama is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has supported efforts to base homeland security spending on risk rather than pork-barrel politics. He has also introduced legislation to strength chemical plant and drinking water security and to enhance disaster preparedness.
Protecting Our Chemical Plants
Chemical plants are attractive terrorist targets because they are often located near cities, are relatively easy to attack, and contain multi-ton quantities of hazardous chemicals. While a number of plants have taken voluntary steps to improve security, there are still major gaps; and the federal government has never established meaningful, permanent security regulations. Senator Obama worked with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to introduce comprehensive chemical plant security legislation that would establish a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow. The bill requires chemical facilities to enhance security, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation, and safety training, and, where possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals.
"Incredibly, security remains voluntary at (chemical) plants, despite strong warnings from the 9/11 commission that a strike at just one of the nation's major plants could release chemicals capable of killing one million people or more, according to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. He and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., have introduced legislation that would require plant owners to beef up security. The question is why President Bush hasn't been pushing for tougher measures all along."
-The (Albany) Times Union, September 6, 2006
Keeping Track of Spent Nuclear Fuel
The nation has 103 operating nuclear power plants which annually produce over 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel that remains highly radioactive for many years. A report by the Government Accountability Office found inadequate tracking and security for spent nuclear fuel rods. Nuclear plants in Connecticut, Vermont and California have reported missing spent fuel in the last five years. Senator Obama introduced legislation to establish guidelines for tracking, controlling, and accounting for spent fuel at nuclear power plants.
Evacuating Special Needs Population in Emergencies
One of the most devastating aspects of Hurricane Katrina is that most of the stranded victims were society's most vulnerable members - low-income families, the elderly, the homeless, and disabled Americans. Too many states and cities do not have adequate plans in place to care for special-needs populations. Senator Obama introduced and passed legislation to require mandatory planning for evacuating people with special needs.
Reuniting Families After Emergencies
After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people struggled to contact family and friends following evacuation. Evacuees were forced to comb through dozens of databases in an effort to reconnect with loved ones. Senator Obama introduced and passed legislation to create a centralized, federal database to allow individuals displaced by an emergency to call one phone number or go to one website and post their location and condition. Family members and law enforcement officials would be able to use this same secure, centralized system to check the status of missing loved ones.
Keeping Our Drinking Water Safe
There are almost 170,000 public water systems in the United States. An attack on a drinking water system could contaminate or disrupt water service, thereby disrupting society, impacting human health and compromising critical activities such as fire protection. Senator Obama introduced legislation to provide $37.5 million over 5 years for drinking water systems to upgrade their monitoring and security efforts.
Protecting the Public from Radioactive Releases
Following reports that nuclear power plants in Illinois did not promptly notify local communities that tritium -- a byproduct of nuclear generation -- had leaked into the groundwater, Senator Obama introduced legislation to require nuclear plants to inform state and local officials if there is an unintentional leak of a radioactive substance. Chronic exposure to high levels of tritium can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and genetic damage.
"There have been tritium leaks at other nuclear plants, though none so extensive as at Braidwood. The uproar over Braidwood prompted the Nuclear Energy Institute to outline a voluntary policy for monitoring tritium leaks and reporting such incidents. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has vowed to continue to push for federal legislation that requires reporting. "The nuclear industry already had a voluntary policy, and it hasn't worked," he said. Exelon's past actions have helped to prove his point."
-Chicago Tribune, Editorial, May 25, 2006