What: All Issues : Government Checks on Corporate Power : Railroads : S. 4 Legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; Biden amendment to require the secretary of Homeland Security to develop regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials/Motion to table
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S. 4 Legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; Biden amendment to require the secretary of Homeland Security to develop regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials/Motion to table
senate Roll Call 72     Mar 13, 2007
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Conservative

This amendment, offered by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), would have required the Homeland Security Department to divert rail cars containing hazardous materials away from population centers and other high-risk areas. It was proposed as part of a wide-ranging bill to implement the unfulfilled recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The underlying issue the amendment sought to address -- whether railcars carrying toxic materials should be allowed to pass through large cities when there is another route available -- has been simmering for years. The District of Columbia has been engaged in a long court battle to prevent hazardous materials from being transported through the capital city, and there has been a steady movement in Congress to outlaw such practices. The railroad, chemical and fertilizer industries strongly oppose such a mandate, however, and have collectively maintained that previous agreements with the federal government are adequate to reduce the risks to urban areas. Rerouting would add hundreds of miles to shipping routes and put hazardous materials on less suitable lines, the industries said in a letter to all members of Congress. But Biden believes the efforts industry has made are inadequate. "According to security experts, toxic chemicals present a mass casualty terrorist threat rivaled only by nuclear devices, certain acts of bioterrorism and the collapse of large occupied buildings," Biden said in a statement. He added that 90-ton tankers filled with chlorine, just as an example, continue to roll unprotected through heavily populated corridors. Biden's amendment would have allowed exceptions for shipments that originate or terminate in population centers or when no practical alternative route exists. He had the support of environmental as well as public interest groups. Greenpeace, for one, argued that if the chemical industry would switch to safer alternatives they could continue their shipments without modification even under Biden's proposal. In the end, a majority of Senators disagreed with Biden and the motion to table passed 73-25, although five of the six most progressive members of the Senate voted with Biden. All of the Republicans present and exactly half of the Democrats present voted against him.Thus, the bill to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission proceeded without a requirement that hazardous materials shipped by rail go around population centers when practicable.

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