Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HR 4370 Introduction

Last week Rep. Charles Gonzales (D, TX) introduced HR 4370, the Safe Transportation of Hazardous Materials Act of 2009. The bill would require railroad carriers to prepare and maintain a plan for notifying local emergency responders before transporting hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. The legislation has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The bill would require every “railroad carrier engaged in the transportation of hazardous materials” to submit a plan to the Secretary of Transportation of how they would provide 48-hour advance notification to emergency response personnel of the expected transit of a train carrying hazardous materials through their jurisdiction. Such notification would only be made if the emergency response personnel requested the notification. Emergency responders are required to provide 48-hour advance notice of the notification requirement. The bill does not explain if this requirement is just for single event notifications or for a permanent notification requirement based upon the single request. Interestingly, the legislation makes no mention of what information would be expected to be included in the notification. So the simple notification that a train carrying hazardous material will be transiting the jurisdiction would be adequate provision of information. This would suffice for a train carrying a single railcar of fuel oil or 30 cars of anhydrous ammonia. That does not make much sense. The bill provides no justification for this requirement. It does not explain what use the emergency responders would make of the 48-hour advance notification. The 48-hour advance notice is not enough time to for the emergency response agency to acquire new equipment or conduct additional emergency response planning. This legislation looks more like a PR ploy than a real piece of legislation. This would be a bill that Rep. Gonzales could point to during a re-election campaign as proof of his support for emergency response personnel.

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