Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mea Culpa

It seems that I owe Fred Millar an apology for my comment in yesterday’s blog (see: "Reader Comment – 6-29-08") when I said: "Fred Millar is campaigning against chlorine." Fred took exception in a comment to that blog; asking, "Who told you I was ‘campaigning against chlorine’?" He goes on to explain that his position includes mis-routing, by truck and train, a wide variety of hazardous chemicals.

Fred: No one told me that, it was my conclusion from reading your comments on this blog. It seemed to me that you concentrated on chlorine to the exclusion of other hazardous chemicals. I have apparently mischaracterized your concerns, and for that I apologize.

I do agree with Fred that there are problems with the current way that hazardous chemicals are routed. I am glad that he has noted that those problems extend to truck as well as rail shipments. I also agree that the current proposed rail routing rule would be ineffective, at best, at ensuring that the rail shipments are routed via the safest and most secure route practicable.

Fred and I very definitely disagree on how best to deal with those problems. His approach of allowing state and local governments veto authority over ‘through shipments’ of hazardous chemicals is, in my opinion, a recipe for economic chaos.

Unfortunately, I do not have an easy alternative answer to this problem. What is clear is that somehow, the FRA (or DHS, or someone in the Federal Government) is going to have to take an active role in reviewing and approving routing decisions. What is clear is that a paper routing and review system is going to be totally inadequate to the task. This is going to require the development of a sophisticated, computer-based, system for analyzing, measuring, and comparing risks along various sections of possible routes. Then and only then can a rational decision be made about which route is the safest and most secure.

In the longer run, the Federal Government is going to have to look at establishing long distance rail lines that go around urban areas. This will be necessary for the high movement of all kinds of freight, but it is the ultimate answer to the problem of shipping hazardous chemicals. How that would be paid for and who would make the routing decisions (pork barrel problems) would be serious problems that have to be solved.

In any case, I do apologize for inappropriately characterizing Fred Millar’s concerns about the shipment of chlorine in particular and hazardous chemicals in general.

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