- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

D.C. lawmakers are considering additional steps to protect the city from a terrorist attack — including holding railroads liable for toxic chemical spills.

National experts and community leaders testified yesterday before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee, many of them praising homeland security legislation introduced last month by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, and Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.

The bill would expand the responsibilities of the city’s Emergency Management Agency, create a Homeland Security Commission to improve cooperation with the federal government and establish a warning system to alert residents in an emergency.

It also would address the city’s ongoing struggle with CSX Transportation Inc. by holding the rail operator liable for the cleanup, containment and other costs incurred by the city if hazardous materials were spilled.

“It’s about ensuring this stuff stays out of D.C.,” Mrs. Patterson said.

City officials have gone after CSX before, out of concern that terrorists could target a hazardous rail shipment and trigger a massive explosion followed by a cloud of deadly gas.

In February, the council passed a ban on shipping hazardous materials within two miles of the Capitol. But a U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruled that the city cannot enforce the ban while CSX seeks to have the law overturned. CSX argues that only the federal government has the power to regulate interstate commerce.

While Mrs. Patterson thinks the ban will withstand legal scrutiny, she said holding CSX liable for a toxic cleanup would add another layer of deterrence.

Many who testified yesterday commended the city’s steps.

“One of the greatest threats to the District’s security exists on the city’s roads and rails,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest group. “Yet industry’s response…has been indifferent at best and hostile at its worst.”

Mrs. Patterson said the homeland security legislation likely will undergo revisions this summer before being put to a vote. She said she hopes it will become law by the end of the year.

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