Oct. 18, 2004

Bush Administration Leaves Chemical and Nuclear Plants, HazMat, Ports and Water Systems Vulnerable to Terrorists

Bush Aversion to Regulation and Allegiance to Campaign Contributors Has Blocked Progress on Homeland Security, New Report Shows

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Bush administration has consistently ignored or opposed commonsense measures to protect Americans from potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks – an inaction that reflects officials’ aversion to regulating private industry and allegiance to key campaign contributors, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The report, Homeland Unsecured: The Bush Administration’s Hostility to Regulation and Ties to Industry Leave America Vulnerable, details how the Bush administration has failed to harden our defenses against terrorism and secure the most vulnerable, high-impact targets. The report is based on an analysis of five key areas – chemical plants, nuclear plants, hazardous material transport, ports and water systems. The report is available at www.HomelandUnsecured.org.

“Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush has made protection of the American people from terrorism the rhetorical centerpiece of his presidency,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Yet this administration has failed to use its executive powers or support legislation to mandate regulatory requirements that should be taken. Bush has abdicated his responsibility to protect America from the risk of terrorist attacks because he is fundamentally hostile to regulation of private industry and is loath to cross his big money campaign contributors.”

Eighty-five percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is controlled by the private sector.  However, the Bush administration has been notoriously hostile toward the reasonable regulation of private industry, including the industries mentioned in this report. It has blocked efforts to create rules to strengthen security at chemical and nuclear plants, make the transportation of hazardous materials more secure, ensure the safety of the drinking water supply or secure the nation’s ports.

The report suggests that this is in part because industries representing the five homeland security areas examined in this study collectively have:

  • Raised at least $19.9 million for the Bush campaigns, the Republican National Committee or the Bush inauguration since the 2000 cycle.
  • Provided 10 Rangers and 20 Pioneers – individuals who raise at least $200,000 and $100,000, respectively – to the Bush presidential campaigns.
  • Spent at least $201 million lobbying the White House, executive branch agencies and Congress from 2002 through June 2004.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Chemical plants

A strike at one or more of the 15,000 chemical plants across the United States could cause thousands, even millions, of injuries and deaths. But the Bush administration and the chemical industry have blocked legislation that would require chemical plants to shift to safer chemicals and technologies, and blocked Environmental Protection Agency efforts to compel security improvements via the Clean Air Act.

  • Nuclear plants

Twenty-seven state attorneys generals warned Congress in October 2002 that the consequences of a catastrophic attack against one of the country’s 103 nuclear power plants “are simply incalculable.” The plants were not designed to withstand the impact of aircraft crashes or explosive forces, and the government does not require nuclear plants to be secure from an aircraft attack. Radioactive waste is stored in standing pools or dry casks, making it vulnerable, and the plants have grossly inadequate security. But the Bush administration and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have resisted congressional efforts for additional security regulation. In fact, the NRC proposed weakening fire safety regulations, which would make it harder for a reactor to be safely shut down in the event of a terrorist attack.

  • Hazardous materials transport

The trains and trucks that carry tens of millions of tons of toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials annually on our highways make tempting terrorist targets. More than half of the nation’s 60,000 rail tank cars carrying hazardous materials are too old to meet current industry standards and thus are more likely than newer cars to break open after derailing. A weapon as simple as the legal, widely available 50-caliber rifle has the potential to inflict serious damage on a train car or truck carrying lethal materials, by penetrating tanks and causing an explosion or derailment. Despite the risk, though, there are insufficient checks on where trucks carrying hazardous materials may drive; insufficient oversight and tracking of the types, amounts and locations of trucks moving these lethal loads; and insufficient controls on the issuance of commercial licenses for drivers of trucks carrying hazardous materials. Legislation to assess rail security has been blocked by members of the president’s party, and other safety proposals have been dropped because of industry opposition.

  • Port security

Every year, 8,100 foreign cargo ships make 50,000 visits to the United States. International sea transport is an attractive terrorist target because there are millions of shipping containers, hundreds of ports and dozens of methods to damage infrastructure, disrupt the world economy, undermine our military readiness and harm Americans.   Just 4 to 6 percent of shipping containers are inspected today.   Inspectors are not adequately trained. And innovative pilot security programs have not been implemented. At least one important security initiative has been adopted since 9/11, the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, but new security measures and proposed funding put forward by the Bush administration fall far short of what is needed.

  • Drinking water systems

Few acts of sabotage against the public could be more insidious than delivering poison into a family’s home through tap water. The water distribution network—the pumping stations, storage tanks and pipes that might cover thousands of miles within a metropolitan area—provides countless opportunities to introduce biological, chemical or radiological contaminants. But there is no funding mechanism for the federal government to provide direct grants to cities to upgrade water security, and the private water utility industry’s campaign to take over public water systems is getting a push from the Bush administration. This could make securing our water supply even more difficult because private water companies, like chemical companies, nuclear power companies and other industries, will resist strong security standards mandated by the government.

The terrorist threat is particularly acute in Washington, D.C., where 8,500 rail cars carrying hazardous materials travel through the city each year. Ninety-ton rail cars that regularly pass within four blocks of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., contain enough chlorine to potentially injure or kill 100,000 people within 30 minutes and could endanger 2.4 million people.

The D.C. Council considered a bill requiring the rerouting of hazardous material-carrying trains away from the city, but it was postponed because the federal government promised to study the matter. In May 2004, though, a Transportation Security Administration official told Congress that the federal government intended to continue allowing trains and hazardous materials to pass close to the Capitol.

“A year of hearings, meetings and entreaties to the Bush administration has failed to persuade them to take obvious action to protect the safety of Washington residents,” said D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson. “I am urging my colleagues to move ahead with our legislative remedy, and urge other communities to follow suit.”

Added Rick Hind, legislative director of the Toxics Campaign at Greenpeace USA, “The good news is that threats to chemical plants and train shipments are preventable. In fact, the most serious threats can actually be eliminated thanks to safer available chemicals and safer rail routes. The bad news is that the Bush administration would rather listen to the Dow and Exxon lobbyists than take action to prevent a disaster.”

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To read Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook's statement, click here.

To read Greenpeace Legislative Director Rick Hind's statement, click here.

To read D.C. Councilmember Kathy Patterson’s statement, click here.

To read the report visit www.homelandunsecured.org.