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

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Tells D.C. Councilmembers How Washington, D.C., and Homeland Are Unsecured

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 the Bush administration’s aversion to regulating private industry and its allegiance to key campaign contributors, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook told members of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee today.

The administration’s failures are particularly dangerous for residents of the Washington, D.C., area, Claybrook said, because 8,500 rail cars carrying hazardous and potentially toxic materials travel through D.C. every year. Ninety-ton rail cars that regularly pass within four blocks of the U.S. Capitol contain enough chlorine to injure or kill 100,000 people within 30 minutes and could endanger 2.4 million people.

Washington, D.C., is within 60 miles of two nuclear power plants: North Anna in Virginia and Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, Claybrook told the committee.  Each of these nuclear plants represents a potential radioactive “dirty bomb” that could explode with devastating effects. Further, trucks travel every day on the Beltway carrying hazardous materials. Transport vehicles are tempting targets for terrorists because the opportunities for harm are great and the targets are difficult to protect.

“Are Americans safer today as a result of this administration’s efforts to fortify our key infrastructure against attacks?” Claybrook asked. “The answer is a resounding no.  The White House says Americans are safer, but the rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground.”

Claybrook detailed the findings of a recent Public Citizen report, Homeland Unsecured: The Bush Administration’s Hostility to Regulation and Ties to Industry Leave America Vulnerable, available on the Web at www.HomelandUnsecured.org. The report   describes 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. Among the 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. 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 railroads and 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. 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.

  • Drinking water systems

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.

The report suggests that these security failures have occurred 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; and spent at least $201 million lobbying the White House, executive branch agencies and Congress from 2002 through June 2004.

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