Why Obama, Part II: Homeland SecurityJanuary 26, 2008
Five years after 9/11, our country is still unprepared for a terrorist attack. From improving security for our transit systems and chemical plants, to increasing cargo screening in our airports and seaports, the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have been underfunded and ignored. The 9/11 Commission gave the government five F’s and 12 D’s on the implementation of its recommendations. Senator Obama is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has supported efforts to base homeland security spending on risk rather than pork-barrel politics. He has also introduced legislation to strengthen chemical plant and drinking water security and to enhance disaster preparedness.
Barack Obama’s Plan
Protecting Our Chemical Plants
Chemical plants are attractive terrorist targets because they are often located near cities, are relatively easy to attack, and contain multi-ton quantities of hazardous chemicals. While a number of plants have taken voluntary steps to improve security, there are still major gaps; and the federal government has never established meaningful, permanent security regulations. Senator Obama worked with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to introduce comprehensive chemical plant security legislation that would establish a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow. The bill requires chemical facilities to enhance security, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation, and safety training, and, where possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals
Keeping Track of Spent Nuclear Fuel
The nation has 103 operating nuclear power plants which annually produce over 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel that remains highly radioactive for many years. A report by the Government Accountability Office found inadequate tracking and security for spent nuclear fuel rods. Nuclear plants in Connecticut, Vermont and California have reported missing spent fuel in the last five years. Senator Obama introduced legislation to establish guidelines for tracking, controlling, and accounting for spent fuel at nuclear power plants.
Evacuating Special Needs Population in Emergencies
One of the most devastating aspects of Hurricane Katrina is that most of the stranded victims were society’s most vulnerable members – low-income families, the elderly, the homeless, and disabled Americans. Too many states and cities do not have adequate plans in place to care for special-needs populations. Senator Obama introduced and passed legislation to require mandatory planning for evacuating people with special needs.
Reuniting Families After Emergencies
After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people struggled to contact family and friends following evacuation. Evacuees were forced to comb through dozens of databases in an effort to reconnect with loved ones. Senator Obama introduced and passed legislation to create a centralized, federal database to allow individuals displaced by an emergency to call one phone number or go to one website and post their location and condition. Family members and law enforcement officials would be able to use this same secure, centralized system to check the status of missing loved ones.
Keeping Our Drinking Water Safe
There are almost 170,000 public water systems in the United States. An attack on a drinking water system could contaminate or disrupt water service, thereby disrupting society, impacting human health and compromising critical activities such as fire protection. Senator Obama introduced legislation to provide $37.5 million over 5 years for drinking water systems to upgrade their monitoring and security efforts.
Protecting the Public from Radioactive Releases
Following reports that nuclear power plants in Illinois did not promptly notify local communities that tritium – a byproduct of nuclear generation – had leaked into the groundwater, Senator Obama introduced legislation to require nuclear plants to inform state and local officials if there is an unintentional leak of a radioactive substance. Chronic exposure to high levels of tritium can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and genetic damage.
Barack Obama’s Record
There have been tritium leaks at other nuclear plants, though none so extensive as at Braidwood. The uproar over Braidwood prompted the Nuclear Energy Institute to outline a voluntary policy for monitoring tritium leaks and reporting such incidents. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has vowed to continue to push for federal legislation that requires reporting. “The nuclear industry already had a voluntary policy, and it hasn’t worked,” he said. Exelon’s past actions have helped to prove his point.
— Chicago Tribune, Editorial, May 25, 2006
We could kill a hundred thousand men in the deserts of the Middle East, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that a single terrorist cell here in the U.S. could strike at any number of our vulnerabilities. Needless to say, I’ve long argued that the “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” rhetoric lies in the domain of two-dimensional thinking (not to mention a desperate attempt at retrograde justification for the Iraq debacle). I was glad to see that Obama’s plan addresses many of the gaps in our security (outlined in the pdf), including the need for the screening of all inbound cargo at our ports. I’ve never really understood the logic behind spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fund an ongoing occupation in Iraq while basic steps to “terror proof” our homeland have been largely ignored. Obama and I are also on the same page in recognising that while intelligence is vital to preventing terrorist attacks, we cannot allow fear to drive us to sacrifice the civil liberties that defines our country.