- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

D.C. leaders are complaining that the Bush administration is placing the capital in jeopardy by allowing the rails to carry hazardous cargo through the city. They are attempting to “remedy” the situation with local legislation that would ban trains from carrying toxic materials. This despite the fact that CSX began voluntarily rerouting such cargo following the March 11 train bombings in Madrid and, more importantly, because the U.S. Constitution bestows the regulation of commerce upon Congress.

The D.C. Terrorism Prevention and Safety in Hazardous Materials Transportation Act would force railroads and trucking firms to get a permit to transport ammonia, chlorine and other hazardous materials. The permit would be issued by the D.C. Department of Transportation (the agency responsible for the traffic cameras). The legislation also would place severe restrictions on interstate commerce by mandating travel routes and travel times. The co-sponsors are three committee chairmen — Public Services Chairman David Catania (independent), Judiciary Committee Chairman Kathy Patterson (Democrat) and Public Works Chairman Carol Schwartz (Republican). Mrs. Patterson said in a prepared statement, “I would do everything in my power, and use every power available to me as a local official to keep my community and my family safe.” That something includes partnering with Greenpeace and Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen to propose legislation contrary to the Constitution.

The interstate transportation of hazardous cargo is indeed a national security concern — and especially so in post-September 11 America. Annually, an estimated 6 million tons of chemical freight pass through the capital and within blocks of the Capitol Building. The potential cost of lives and injuries due to an accidental released of 90 to 100 tons, studies have said, could claim 100,000 victims within 14 or so miles of the incident. To believe such shipments could fall into the hands of terrorists is a frightening thought.

Yet, instead of Mrs. Patterson rallying around an issue of critical concern — Is the District prepared to handle the intended or accidental release of toxic chemicals? — she accuses the Bush administration of playing politics while she plays Chicken Little with the environmentalists.

Since September 11, the Bush administration has worked with the railroads, including CSX, to ensure interstate commerce flows uninterrupted. For instance, cargoes often are redirected on NFL game days, when stadiums are full. And again, since the Madrid bombings, CSX and other railroads have voluntarily rerouted hazardous shipments. Such voluntary actions have bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

The D.C. legislation is a toxic mix of liberal politics and election year blustering. What the occupants of City Hall don’t understand is this: “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes” is the role of Congress. So says the Constitution. We hope cooler heads continue to prevail in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

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