- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

Let the “Not In My Backyard” wars begin. The subject is chemical transport by rail, and the battle pits Maryland versus the District of Columbia and possibly Virginia with various federal government entities in between. As long as we need clean drinking water, we will also need chlorine and other potentially lethal substances to be transported in and around major cities. This poses a security risk. But the District is trying to fob that risk onto its neighbors. That helps no one, and sets a terrible precedent for the entire nation regarding interstate commerce.

Outraged Maryland lawmakers would have been remiss were they silent last week at the National Capital Planning Commission’s proposals to reroute rails carrying hazardous chemicals. They weren’t. These plans would mostly run the chemicals through Maryland’s Prince George’s, Howard and/or Charles counties. The three options include: a $5.3 billion tunnel from Alexandria’s Potomac Yard to the D.C.-Maryland border east of the Anacostia; a $4.3 billion rerouting from the Indian Head area to Jessup, Md.; or a $4.7 billion rerouting from Virginia’s Dahlgren area to Jessup.

Since the proposals originate in the federal government — the National Capital Planning Commission is the government’s chief planning agency — they are not, technically speaking, D.C. proposals. But it is not possible to view the latest developments outside the political context. They vindicate the actions of the D.C. Council and congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who pushed to send the District’s chemicals to the suburbs with the 2004 Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. That law banned chemical transport in the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol and other key areas. It was immediately assailed as illegal for meddling in interstate commerce in violation of the Interstate Commerce Act and possibly other federal statutes. But here we are three years later, and the District’s goal of shifting risk to the suburbs is several steps closer.

So, it’s no wonder that liberal local lawmakers are crying “environmental injustice.” This effectively tells Prince George’s residents that their safety is less of a priority than that of federal workers in the District. Coldly calculated homeland-security rationales aside, this cannot stand. The national capital area should not have one jurisdiction outsourcing its chemical risk to its neighbors. What is to stop Baltimore from outlawing hazardous chemicals within its borders, or Philadelphia? You can bet that none of these cities will want to pay higher prices for the everyday goods and services that undoubtedly cost more when rail routes are vetoed.

Rail security and the threat of terrorist attack on chemicals are very real problems. It would be much more advisable for governments to agree on a set of best-practice security procedures and protection innovations, rather than declare war on one another with chemical shipments.

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