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D.C. Mayor ‘deflated’ by hazmat ruling

(The following story by Robert Redding Jr. appeared on The Washington Times website on May 5.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday he was deflated by a federal appeals court decision that keeps the District from restricting rail shipments of hazardous materials in the city but that officials were studying other options.

"I am very, very disappointed," said Mr. Williams, a Democrat. "I think this is a step back not only for our city, but for cities across the country."

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday keeps the city from enforcing a ban on hazardous-material shipments by the CSX Transportation Inc. and overturns a lower court decision last month.

The city's options including waiting for the National Capital Planning Commission and the city's Department of Transportation to explore moving the 7-mile stretch of track, which runs north from Alexandria to the District to Hyattsville.

D.C. officials told The Washington Times last month they were prepared to take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat who wrote the legislation that would have eliminated as many as 11,000 shipments annually, yesterday called the ruling "a real travesty."

"It was short, it was shallow," she said. "These three judges have decided that the undisturbed movement of toxic chemicals through the city is more important than the lives and safety of the people we were elected to represent, and that is pretty much of an outrage."

The judges' 13-page ruling stated hazardous rail shipments should be regulated by the federal government, not the city. The judges also said the city's law unreasonably burdens interstate commerce.

The ruling overturned U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan's decision last month that Congress has given states the authority to regulate areas of railroad safety if the federal government has not taken action to address new risks, such as a terrorist threat.

Neither CSX nor federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, have fully disclosed plans to secure the rails from a terrorist attack.

Mr. Williams signed the legislation in February, citing studies that show a terrorist attack on a rail car containing chlorine could kill as many as 100,000 people.

Baltimore and Philadelphia are among other U.S. cities considering similar legislation. CSX officials say these actions could bring such shipments to a halt.

Mr. Williams yesterday also resubmitted legislation to resolve the increasing cost of medical-malpractice premiums, which he says is forcing doctors to leave the city.

He said the legislation does not cap economic damages, but limits most payouts for pain and suffering to $250,000 for a claim against physicians and $500,000 for those against a hospital. The proposal also eliminates a patient's ability to sue a doctor who provided free health care.

However, he faces tough opposition from a group of about 500 area trial lawyers.

"Placing a cap on damages does not promote good health care," said Wayne R. Cohen, president of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., and a law professor at George Washington University. "Instead, it simply immunizes those doctors who committee the most egregious malpractice."

Thursday, May 5, 2005

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