DOT and railroads take aim at D.C. HazMat ban

DOT and railroad industry says D.C. HazMat ban is illegal

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has filed a memorandum with its Surface Transportation Board (STB) stating the ban on hazmat shipments through the District of Columbia, as adopted by the D.C. Council and signed into law on Feb. 15 by Mayor Anthony Williams, is preempted by federal law.

According to the memorandum, the emergency legislation passed by the Council, titled the Terrorism Prevention in Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Act of 2005 (Bill 16-77), violates provisions of federal law dealing with interstate commerce and hazmat transportation as well as STB’s economic regulatory authority.

A major railroad company is also challenging the D.C. ban on transportation of certain hazmat freight within 2.2 miles of the U.S. Capitol. CSX Transportation (CSXT), Inc. has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in an effort to have the ban declared invalid by the Court and to block the implementation of 16-77.

The complaint asserts that the ban violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and expresses preemptive provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. If the act were to survive scrutiny by the Courts, the ban may set a precedent as “other communities are also discussing similar legislation,” CSXT warned.

The D.C. legislation restricts transportation of Class 1 explosives, Class 2 flammable gasses, Class 2 poisonous gasses, and Class 6 poisonous materials within 2.2 miles of the Capitol.

The Council of the District of Columbia, which passed the bill, said the transport of “ultra-hazardous materials” near the Capitol presents an unnecessary high-stakes homeland security risk.

“A terrorist attack on a large-quantity hazardous material shipment near the Capitol would be expected to cause tens of thousands of deaths and a catastrophic economic impact of $5 billion or more,” stated the bill.

The D.C. Council said the federal government has failed to enact adequate security measures around the Capitol. Furthermore, the Council said alternative routes would reduce the risk of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

CSXT has already voluntarily rerouted its hazmat shipments from a north-south rail line that passes near the Capitol to an east-west line that passes through the District but by way of a residential area, The Washington Post has reported.

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