Sunday, February 8, 2004

Transporting hazardous materials

We write to respond to Tuesday’s editorial “Hazardous safety plans.” The Washington Times implies it is trivial that “only .5 percent of the 1.7 million carloads of hazardous materials shipped annually around the country actually pass through the District.” Assuming these statistics are correct, this amounts to 8,500 rail cars of hazardous materials traveling through the District each year, or more than 23 rail cars a day, each of which is a potential target for terrorists.

In this day and age, we think it would be irresponsible to ignore the potential threat posed by these 8,500 carloads of hazardous materials annually passing through the nation’s capital. Should a terrorist successfully target just one tanker car full of chlorine or some other hazardous material contained in those rail cars, the aftermath would be devastating, not only to the residents of the District of Columbia, but to the country as well. The transportation of radioactive waste headed to the planned repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, as mentioned by The Times, does not compare with the transportation of highly toxic and deadly materials on railroad tracks just four blocks from the Capitol and within a few miles of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Times states that “all parties in this debate agree that shipments can be delayed or rerouted at the request of local officials.” Delaying a through-shipment of chlorine during the State of the Union address or the National Football League Kickoff Concert on the Mall last fall is fine, but our residents live and work here every day of the year and are at risk every day of the year. We also are concerned with the safety of the president, members of Congress and our visitors from the region, across the country and around the world. The attacks on September 11, the anthrax murders and the ricin attack here bear this out. “Other communities” are not the seat of the government of the United States. The District of Columbia is uniquely at risk and merits the special considerations regulating the transportation of hazardous materials that are incorporated in our bill.


Council member at-large


Committee on Public Works and the Environment


Council member, Ward 3


Committee on the Judiciary


Bush’s service in the Air National Guard

Regarding the item “Truth goes AWOL” (Op-Ed, Friday) in The Washington Times, it is refreshing to see someone who knows which end of the gun barrel the bullet comes out of address the question of whether President Bush was “AWOL” during his service in the Air National Guard.

One point everyone seems to miss is that during the Vietnam era, the law required that members of the Guard and Reserves who failed to attend required training or duty sessions without making them up be reported to their draft board for induction into the service. For Mr. Bush to have been AWOL for the extended period claimed by his political foes would have meant that officers, many of whom did not even know him, would have had to break the laws and the Uniform Code of Military Justice they had taken an oath to uphold.


Woodstock, Va.?

We live within a system that refuses to deal harshly with criminals, even after we get them on tape committing the crime. We live within a justice system that has no teeth. We live within a system that is laughed at and ridiculed by those who stalk our children. Therefore, how in heaven’s name can we be shocked when another child is murdered? Outraged? Yes. Angry? Yes. But please don’t tell me we’re shocked.

Exactly how many times does this have to happen before we stop being shocked and start realizing that the criminals are not afraid of our laws? Until they are afraid, the rest of us are just sitting ducks waiting until it’s our turn to have our children murdered.


Flower Mound, Texas

‘The emperor has no clothes’

For years, the Bush administration and too many Republican organizations have maintained a position of inaction on climate change based upon their belief that “sound science” on the subject is not yet available.

Momentarily leaving aside the sound science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences, let us briefly accept this otherwise untenable position.

How, if we await sound science, can the president justify his proposal to cut by $100 million the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget for scientific research (“Bush plans $2.4 trillion budget,” Page 1, Tuesday) - including the agency’s research into global climate change?

The emperor has no clothes - and has removed his solitary fig leaf.



Metro’s credibility gap

As a daily rider of the Metro bus and rail system for the past several years, I was quite disturbed to read Friday that the leadership is planning to increase fares again this year (“Metro urges raising fares to offset deficit,” Metropolitan).

What is needed this year is not another fare increase but rather a mass firing of the Metro leadership - starting with General Manager and CEO Richard A. White. The current system runs with such breathtaking inefficiency that a new batch of executives clearly is required. The frequent storms that have hit the area this winter have provided a convenient camouflage for widespread delays and other problems with the system. Trains rarely run on time, buses no longer show up reliably, “supervisors” at bus sites frequently are nowhere to be found, escalators take months to fix, and we are expected to pay more for this “service.” No business on this planet could provide such shoddy service to customers and stay in business, let alone raise prices.

Even more disturbing than the proposed increase is Metro’s desire to raise rates automatically every two years based on increases in operating costs or inflation. It is bad enough that two years in a row, Metro has seen fit to reach deeper into the pockets of its riders, but to expect us to pay higher rates every two years to support its bloated bureaucracy and shoddy service is pathetic. It is likely that this increase will be shoved through just as last year’s was, and there is nothing riders can do other than stop using the system and further clog our capital’s roadways. However, we can, and must, stand up and call for accountability within the system, the firing of the current Metro leadership and a return to the quality service of years past — before the paying of additional fares can possibly be legitimized.



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