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Senate rejects, House introduces amendment aimed at rerouting rail haz-mat shipments around high-threat areas

For U.S. railroads, there was good news and bad news on Capitol Hill yesterday. The Senate rejected an amendment that would have required railroads to reroute hazardous-material shipments around high-threat areas, but the House introduced a similar measure.

By a 73-25 vote, senators elected to table an amendment to the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007 (S. 4) proposed by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) that called for rerouting rail haz-mat shipments around high-threat corridors.

Railroad officials had argued against the amendment, claiming that the U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

The roads’ argument got a boost from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this week. Chamber officials sent a letter to U.S. senators urging them to oppose the amendment because the measure would limit railroads’ ability to appropriately manage risks when transporting hazardous materials and wouldn’t reduce homeland security risks.

“The amendment would only reallocate risks among population centers, [and] could actually increase risks by either eliminating routes that provide optimal overall safety and security, or by adding hundreds of miles and additional days to the journey,” officials at the chamber — which represents more than 3 million U.S. businesses and organizations — wrote in the letter.

Meanwhile, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) yesterday introduced an amendment to the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 1401) that would require railroads to reroute “security sensitive materials” — such as chlorine and propane — around high-threat urban areas.

The measure would require railroads to analyze routes and storage facilities for hazardous materials as part of security plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; study the security risks of alternative routes and storage facilities; and select routes and storage facilities that best reduce the risk of a terrorist attack.

“We already know that these sensitive chemicals are attractive terrorist targets. Just yesterday, an explosion of a tanker containing propane caused evacuations in Batavia N.Y.,” said Markey, a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, in a prepared statement. “Every day, tank cars pass through our urban centers carrying enough chlorine to kill 100,000 people in half an hour.”

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More News from 3/14/2007