Is the Bush Administration Taking Preventable Risks with Public Safety?

Feature story - October 18, 2004
Although the Bush administration touts security among its top priorities after September 11, it refuses to impose new requirements on the chemical industry to reduce and eliminate these threats. Find out more about our work on chemical security.

(c) Jim Dougherty/Sierra Club

April 18, 2005: U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan denies all five motions by CSXT to overturn the City Council's ruling.  Read our letter to the Department of Homeland Security regarding this decision.

February 1, 2005:  VICTORY! The D.C. City Council voted 10-1 in favor of emergency legislation (B15-0525) to re-route freight trains that carry large quantities of the most hazardous substances around the Washington, D.C. area.

October 18, 2004: Public Citizen's Watch holds a news conference to release its new report critizing the Bush administration. 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.

Read our comments submitted to the Department of Transportation supporting chemical security legislation.

June 28, 2004: The "No More Bhopals Alliance" releases a report entitled, "Chemical Industry vs. Public Interest: Redefining the Public Debate on Chemical Security." This report documents how the chemical industry used its influence with the White House and Congress to successfully kill chemical security legislation in Congress and regulations at the EPA in 2002. Legislation is currently deadlocked in Congress and the White House issued a directive in December 2003 eliminating the EPA's role in regulating the chemical industry on security matters.

May 12, 2004: In response to questions from Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) at the May 12th congressional hearing on Homeland Security, Deputy Administrator McHale of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) says that they will NOT propose the re-routing of ultra-hazardous chemical cargoes carried by freight trains through major cities such as Washington, D.C. This is contrary to reports from informed sources who say that the TSA is in the process of developing new rail security policies that will include a re-routing option. The report is due out at the end of June.

The D.C. City Council has legislation pending that would require the re-routing of these cargoes. Representative Markey also plans to introduce legislation to re-route these shipments around all highly populated areas.

February 24, 2004:On the first anniversary of the founding of the Department of Homeland Security, Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security release a Congressional oversight report detailing the state of homeland security after the largest governmental reorganization in 50 years. The report discusses the need to consider inherently safer technologies (IST) as a way to prevent disasters.

Go to to read the report, "America at Risk: Closing the Security Gap."

January 23, 2004: On October 6, 2003, Dr. Jay Boris of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory testifies at the D.C. City Council hearing on terrorists threats to the Washington area. He then repeats his testimony to the D.C. City Council hearing on January 23, 2004 on legislation to reroute trains carrying chemicals that could be turned into weapons of mass destruction by a terrorist attack. Dr. Boris estimates that an attack on one rail car filled with an ultra-toxic chemical such as chlorine could result in 100,000 casualties in the first half hour, killing as many as 100 people per second.

November 16th,2003: CBS's "60 Minutes" airs an alarming investigation into the vulnerability of chemical plants in the United States to terrorism. Read the full story including shocking video footage.

What "60 Minutes" doesn't tell you is how preventable the risks really are at chemical plants. And the answer isn't higher fences or more security guards.

Oct 23, 2003:Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) receives unexpected guests as he is preparing for the Committee on Environment and Public Works meeting to consider his bill, the Chemical Security Act of 2003 (S. 994). A group of Greenpeace activists travel to Capitol Hill to deliver a letter and photo to the Senator. The letter criticizes the merits of his bill, and urges for the use of safer technologies to avoid chemical attacks and accidents. This message is illustrated by the photograph given to the senator of a chlorine tank car passing just four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

After several failed strengthening amendments by Senators Jeffords, Clinton, Boxer and Carper, the Committee votes the bill out over the objections of the attending Democrats. The next stop for the bill is the Senate floor.

Oct 6, 2003:Almost 10 years after the U.S. Secret Service closed Pennsylvania Avenue due to security threats, Greenpeace urges the President's protective force to divert trains carrying toxic chemicals away from Washington, D.C.

In a letter to the Secret Service, Greenpeace warns that a failure to prohibit the shipment of large quantities of highly toxic chemicals through the District poses a near and present threat to the president, national leaders and residents in our nation's capital. Citing the recent arrest of an alleged terrorist, warnings from FBI experts and reports from other government agencies, Greenpeace calls for the re-routing of these hazardous cargo, such as chlorine, around the District of Columbia.

Additionally, we submit a map outlining the vulnerability zone in Washington, D.C. should an attack take place on Capitol Hill, involving any chemical release. According to chemical accident scenarios submitted by industry to the EPA, one 90-ton rail car of chlorine could kill or injure people as far as 14 miles from the release. According to the U.S. Census, 2.4 million people live within 14 miles of Capitol Hill.