Transportation of Hazardous Materials
After listening to concerns from teh City Attorney's office and getting an update about the Court case pending regarding Washington D.C.'s ordinance, I decided not to move forward to introduce the subject matter of an ordinance that would require better regulation of the most dangerous materials that are routed through Minneapolis. At this time it appears we may lack the authority to do so as the railroads appear to be winning in the courts.
Washington DC has passed a similar ordinance and it is their authority to do so that is now being reviewed by the courts. One of the problems is that Bush Administration has not done anything at all on this issue. Until such time as the Federal Government steps in and exerts its authority to protect urban populations, the courts may well end up ruling that local governments have the authority. If they do, we will be ready to move forward on this.
St. Louis, Albany, Buffalo, Memphis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and 2 state legislatures (NY and TN) have all introduced similar legislation. One of the purposes of introducing this ordinance would have been to stand with these communities and show the Federal Government that there is support in urban communities for restricting large shipments of deadly materials passing through densely populated areas.
But the primary purpose of this ordinance would be to protect public safety in Minneapolis. An accidental (or purposeful) release of a rail car’s worth of chlorine gas could kill thousands of Minneapolis residents in half an hour. This danger is not hypothetical. A Madison Burlington Northern derailment spread a toxic cloud over the Duluth-Superior area and forced the temporary evacuation of 50,000 people in 1992. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the spill caused long-term health problems among residents.
Still, there is a great deal of caution among my colleagues here about this and I am trying to respect that. I also think that even raising the issue to the level I have has sent a signal. Now, as the court case winds its way through the system in D.C. we will be ready to act should that seem appropriate.
I am convinced that this is a serious issue and there is a lot more we ought to be doig to protect ourselves from the transportation of dangerous materials. Hopefully, the federal government will take the necessary action or the courts will decide that local governments are empowered to do so before there is a tragedy.
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