Homeland Security: Sanitizing Toxic Trains

When Iraqi insurgents blew up trucks carrying chlorine, the attacks conjured up frightening images of chemical warfare transported to American shores.



In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court yesterday issued a “stunning rebuke” to the Bush administration and “ruled that the federal government does indeed have authority to regulate greenhouse gases linked to global warming.”


NEW YORK: State agrees to generously fund stem cell research.

IOWA: On Sunday, Iowa’s minimum wage increased from $5.15 to $6.20 an hour, the first raise in a decade.

FLORIDA: Gov. Charlie Crist (R) hopes to “persuade members of the Florida cabinet this week to end the practice of stripping convicted felons of their right to vote.”

CALIFORNIA: An increasing portion of the state’s baby boomers are being forced to put off retirement.


THINK PROGRESS: The K Street Project lives.

CLIMATE PROGRESS: “Bush Administration vs. Everyone Else.”

MEDIA MATTERS: “CNN’s Malveaux parroted White House criticism of Pelosi’s Syria visit, but ignored GOP-led trip.”


“During a live press conference in Baghdad, Senators McCain and Graham were heckled by CNN reporter Michael Ware.”
— The Drudge Report, 4/1/07


“I did not heckle the senator. Indeed, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t even ask a question. In fact, when I raised my hand to ask a question, the press conference abruptly ended.”
— CNN Reporter Michael Ware, 4/2/07


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  April 3, 2007
Sanitizing Toxic Trains
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Sanitizing Toxic Trains

When Iraqi insurgents recently blew up trucks carrying chlorine — sickening at least 356 people in Baghdad — the attacks conjured up frightening images of chemical warfare transported by terrorists to American shores. “Chlorine gas attacks the eyes and lungs within seconds, causing difficulty in breathing and skin irritation in low-level exposure. Inhaled at extremely high levels, it dissolves in the lungs to form hydrochloric acid that burns lung tissue, essentially drowning a person as liquid floods the lungs.” Every year, massive railcars traverse 300,000 miles of freight railways, carrying highly toxic chlorine gas through almost all major American towns and cities. A U.S. Homeland Security scenario drafted in 2004 estimated a large chlorine tank explosion on U.S. soil could lead to 17,500 deaths, 10,000 severe injuries, and 100,000 hospitalizations. In a new report entitled “Toxic Trains and the Terrorist Threat,” the Center for American Progress surveyed water utilities that still receive chlorine gas by rail and utilities that have eliminated chlorine railcars by switching to a less hazardous disinfectant. The analysis found that since 1999, some 25 water facilities that formerly received chlorine gas by rail have switched to safer and more secure water treatment options, such as liquid bleach or ultraviolet light. This conversion to safer alternatives for water treatment is the only way to protect neighborhoods and communities and get unnecessary toxic cargoes off the tracks. For the price of a single day’s expenditure on the war in Iraq, the United States could cover construction costs of converting the remaining water facilities off chlorine gas railcars.

THE BUSH RULES: Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its long-awaited chemical plant security rules, marking the first “across-the-board” attempt to require companies to head off potential catastrophic terrorist attacks involving the theft or explosive release of toxic chemicals stored in densely populated urban areas. Under the new rules, local laws that conflict with, interfere or frustrate” DHS regulations could be preempted — a slight softening of the position DHS took last December when it suggested state regulations would be broadly pre-empted by federal safety regulations. Because New Jersey has promulgated tougher chemical security rules than the Bush administration, the state has long argued that federal pre-emption would undermine state efforts to secure its citizens. The federal rules crafted by the Bush administration — which too often have catered to the chemical industry’s interests — “do not set a timetable for changes or require the industry to take specific measures, such as switching to less hazardous chemicals or ‘inherently safer technology,’ as New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) has proposed.” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said, “The department continues to crawl toward the goal of stronger security, while many of the states know that we should be running toward it.”

DANGER ZONES: A comprehensive solution to the nation’s chemical terrorist threat can only come from the federal level. But the administration has largely ignored the advice of experts that have called for a national strategy to address the security and safety dangers involved in the manufacture, use, and transportation of chlorine gas and hazardous chemicals. Just 37 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities still receive chlorine gas by rail. More than 25 million Americans live in harm’s way near these facilities, while millions more live in cities and towns along the rail delivery routes. In the absence of administration efforts to create a national approach, Congress must step in and require chemical facilities to use cost-effective technologies to reduce or eliminate chemical hazards, target assistance to help water utilities convert from chlorine gas, and require chemical facilities to account for transportation risks in developing security assessments and plans.

THE PROVEN PATH TO INCREASED SAFETY: Since 1999, some 25 water utilities that formerly received chlorine gas by rail have switched to safer and more secure water treatment options, such as liquid bleach or ultraviolet light. These alternative treatment options eliminate the danger of a catastrophic toxic gas cloud. As a result, more than 26 million Americans who live near these facilities are safer and more secure. Of facilities that still receive rail shipments of chlorine gas, at least six drinking water and wastewater plants have definite plans to convert from chlorine gas to a more secure disinfectant. Cost estimates provided by 20 water facilities indicate that conversations at these facilities would cost no more than $1.50 per person each year. Put another way, a single day’s expenditure in Iraq could wean these 20 facilities off chlorine gas and help reduce the potential harm from a terrorist attack.

Under the Radar

TERRORISM – HICKS’S PLEA BARGAIN ARRANGED TO FURTHER POLITICAL ENDS: In February, Vice President Cheney traveled to Australia to visit with his close ally Prime Minister John Howard, who pleaded for the release of the Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Last Friday, Hicks became the first person to be sentenced by a military commission convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, accepting nine months of imprisonment and a gag order preventing him discussing the case for 12 months. The plea bargain itself was brokered by Susan Crawford, the top military commission official and a former Department of Defense inspector general under then-Secretary of Defense Cheney, without the knowledge or input of the lawyers prosecuting Hicks. Indeed, even the lead prosecutor expressed shock over the light sentence. Given the nature of the deal, suspicions are being raised that the plea agreement may have been an orchestrated gesture by Cheney to benefit Howard — who is trailing in the polls — in his re-election bid. Hick’s father commented that “it is clearly a political fix arranged between Mr. Howard and the Bush administration to shut up Hicks until after the election in November.” Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson said, “I’m not naive. … I’m quite sure they worked out a plea bargain that…would allow David Hicks to return to Australia, and satisfy Prime Minister Howard’s needs.” One observer noted that the arrangement would be unconstitutional under U.S. law. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan highlighted the questionable circumstances surrounding the plea bargain: “If you think this was in any way a legitimate court process, you’re smoking something even George Michael would pay a lot of money for. It was a political deal, revealing the circus that the alleged Gitmo court system really is.”

 Because Americans strongly back a timeline to redeploy from Iraq, conservatives have focused their opposition to the recently-passed Iraq redeployment legislation on the domestic spending that is attached. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently stated, “They used this serious effort, what should have been a serious effort to fund the troops as an opportunity…to get pork for various and sordid products back home. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) added, “So why are we going through this exercise of heaping pork on the backs of our men and women in uniform and trying to put artificial dates which will not occur?” But just one year ago, these same conservatives endorsed the emergency supplemental bill that included $15 billion in domestic spending, including “$4 billion for farmers, $1.1 billion for Gulf Coast fisheries, and $1 billion in grants to states.” The bill also included the notorious $700 million Railroad to Nowhere in Mississippi, reportedly the largest earmark ever, sponsored by Lott. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment aimed at eliminating Lott’s egregious pork project, but it was defeated. Fully 18 senators who last week opposed the Iraq spending bill — including McConnell and Lott — voted last year to preserve the Railroad to Nowhere. (See a list of the 18 senators here.) Conservatives are now complaining about “pork” to distract from their real problem with the Iraq legislation: the fact that it forces President Bush to change course. These senators want to give Bush a blank check to wage a war without end; they just don’t want to admit it to their constituents.

ECONOMY — SUBPRIME LENDING MARKET HAS LED TO LOSS IN HOMEOWNERSHIP: Subprime loans, which are given out to “homeowners with less-than-sterling credit, are the fastest-growing segment of the mortgage market as lenders reach out to those unable to qualify for conventional mortgages.” But as a new report by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) notes, “Over the past nine years, the subprime market has produced more than $2 trillion in home loans, but contrary to industry assertions, these loans have not resulted in a net gain in homeownership.” Such loans made during 1998-2006 “have led or will lead to a net loss of homeownership for almost one million families.” The report shows that since 1998, “only 9% of subprime loans have gone to first-time homebuyers and hence led to increased homeownership” while 15.6% of subprime loans “either have ended or will end in foreclosure and the loss of homeownership.” Women and minorities are disproportionately affected by the predatory practices of subprime mortgage lending. Though African-American and Latino families are often held up as beneficiaries of subprime lending, the CRL report found that “both populations also experienced a net loss of homeownership due to these loans.” Additionally, in a 2005 survey of  331 U.S. metropolitan areas, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) found that “women were more likely to get subprime, rather than prime, loans in every one.” Subprime loans were more prevalent amongst African-Americans “in 98.5% of the metropolitan areas, while Hispanics were more apt to hold a subprime mortgage or refinance loan in nearly 89.1%.” On average, the NCRC report found that both Latinos and African-Americans pay higher rates on subprime loans, with African-Americans “3.2 times more likely  to receive a higher-rate loan than white borrowers.” 


Think Fast

They were just making fun of us and paid this visit just for their own interests,” said Jaafar Moussa Thamir, a merchant in the Shorja market visited by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) congressional delegation. “Do they think that when they come and speak few Arabic words in a very bad manner it will make us love them?”

In the “latest evidence of stepped up sectarian and insurgent killings outside Baghdad,” a “truck bomber carrying food supplies killed eight Iraqi schoolgirls and a baby in the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Monday as suspected Sunni militants executed 21 Shiite workers north of Baghdad.”

The Justice Department has notified Italia Federici that she is a target of the ongoing Abramoff investigation. Federici is the former girlfriend of Stephen Griles, the most senior Bush official thus far convicted in the Abramoff probe. Federici offered Abramoff access to high-level Bush administration officials in return for money.

“Despite repeated requests from a House committee chairman and government investigators, the Pentagon has failed to hand over its official assessments of the readiness of US-trained Iraqi security units to take over key functions from the US military.”

“His job on the line, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales shelved plans for a family vacation and began prepping yesterday for a showdown with senators over the firings of federal prosecutors.” 

Meghan O’Sullivan, President Bush’s “top day-to-day adviser on Iraq,” who has “played a key behind-the-scenes role in implementing Bush’s controversial Iraq policies over the past four years, will leave later this spring.” O’Sullivan was known for her “steady optimism over the eventual outcome in Iraq.”

Lawmakers are calling for the resignation of NASA’s Inspector General, who “created a hostile and dysfunctional workplace…and compromised his independence by appearing to be close to former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe.”

“The world needs at least 4 million health care professionals, the director-general of the World Health Organization said Tuesday.” The crisis is “most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 24% of the global burden of diseases but has only 3% of the health workforce.”

And finally: You, too, can now dress down Bill O’Reilly. Or dress him up. Cartoon Doll Emporium has released an interactive O’Reilly dress-up doll (falafel not included).


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