May 9, 2005

Livin’ in the Bull’s Eye.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:06 pm

Chemical bulls eye.jpgYes, dear hearts, I am one of the 12 million people who lives within a 14-mile radius of what terrorist experts describe as “the most dangerous two miles in America.”

If anything, the New York Times understates the vulnerability that is screamingly obvious to those of us who are familiar with the area in question. Once or twice per year, I have occasion to drive among the various tank farms and chemical facilities that are sandwiched between Newark Airport ant Port Elizabeth, and the mind boggles at the ease with which a bad guy could gain access to these places (let alone the planes taking off and landing at Newark Airport).

It is a huge and potentially deadly problem. And yet, while we try to go about our lives here in the bull’s eye, nothing gets better as the tangle of money-hungry and turf-protecting bureaucracies squawk about insufficient Homeland Security funds for New Jersey. The bitching loses a certain amount of credibility when we see, for example, that the City of Newark spent $300.000 in counterterrorism money on two air-conditioned garbage trucks, and New Jersey Transit used $36 million of Homeland Security money to overhaul the Hoboken Ferry Terminal.

New Jersey’s Department of Homeland Security, established in 2002, has done a good deal to help, but it is woefully behind the curve. Memo to all the knuckleheads who recently said that they would vote for former Governor McGreevey if he were to run again: Does the name Golan Cipel ring a bell?

Of course, the New York Times makes a point of saying, “Since 2001, at least two major efforts to bolster chemical plant security have been stalled, in part by industry lobbyists.” Let me say this. As a person who lives here, I don’t doubt that the chemical industry, already regulated to the point of causing many companies to leave New Jersey, is less than thrilled at the prospect of yet more regulation. Indeed, no business, mindful of its bottom line, is particularly interested in incurring more regulatory expense.

However, I have read some of the proposed regulations (published, by law, for comment in the Federal Register), and typical of many federal regulations, these are poorly written and tend to leave the members of the “regulated community” at a loss to know exactly what will be required of them by the proposed regulations. As such, the “opposition” that the NY Times speaks of appears to me to consist mainly of the comments to the proposed regulations by the regulated community seeking clarity. This is understandable, because Administrative Law 101 teaches us that the federal agency’s interpretation of its own regulations, once adopted, is the interpretation that will, in all likelihood, be the one that is adopted by the courts.

Make no mistake about it, I am all for regulations that clearly lay out what is expected of industrial sites in the most dangerous two miles in America, and I also believe that the chemical industry will comply with such regulations, once they are unambiguously written. After all, their people live here too. If, however, certain industries don’t wish to comply, they can pack up and leave, thank you very much.

Quite simply, we go through each day hoping for the best, but quietly worrying about the worst. We in New Jersey have learned that hoping for something worthwhile from our representatives in Washington is not unlike believing in the Tooth Fairy. The NY Times quotes one North Jersey resident as saying, “People pay taxes and deserve to be protected. But they probably won’t. It’s just the way things work.”

We just keep our fingers crossed, smile, and place our faith in the Washington Tooth Fairies.

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