Vulnerable Dams and Ports Shortchanged,
by Charles Pope, Washington Correspondent
Pentagon pushing for exemption from environmental laws
WASHINGTON -- To folks in Walla Walla County, Ice Harbor Dam is a fairly unremarkable dam on the Snake River that can be counted on to efficiently generate power and create a few jobs.
To security experts and some members of Congress, however, the plain-looking dam in Eastern Washington is something else: a menacing symbol of the nation's failure to protect its vital infrastructure from terrorists.
They say the dam and hundreds like it across the nation --along with ports, power plants, chemical plants and other facilities -- are juicy, lightly protected targets begging to be hit by terrorists.
The simmering debate over what the country should do to protect its ports, dams, water systems, nuclear plants, food supply and other essential installations reached an angry apex last night as the House and Senate passed legislation providing nearly $80 billion for the war in Iraq and anti-terrorism activities.
Final passage of the war budget was never in doubt. The Senate approved its measure 93-0 and the House adopted a similar bill 414-12, underscoring lawmakers' resolve to back U.S. forces in the field. The entire Washington state delegation voted to approve the budget.
The votes put the two chambers on track to send President Bush a final package by his deadline of April 11, which would be uncommonly swift for a Congress that received his request for $74.7 billion only a week ago.
The bill contains money for troops in Iraq and billions of dollars for helpful nations, but it has less than $2 billion for local police and fire departments and other "first responders."
It provides no money for beefing up security at ports and chemical plants. Nor is there any money for heightened security at Ice Harbor Dam and other projects controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Democrats, repeatedly rebuffed by Republicans and the White House, have bitterly complained about the decision to bypass what they say are crucial local needs.
"The administration is doing a miserable job protecting our homeland security," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who rarely uses such harsh tones.
"These dams, the Bonneville power grid, the other facilities in Washington are all critical infrastructure that need to be protected."
Dicks and Democrats have been fuming over the refusal by Republicans in the House to allow $2.5 billion to be added for homeland security. That provision would have provided $108 million to the Army Corps of Engineers to pay for added security at a selection of Washington state projects, including Ice Harbor Dam, McNary Lock and Dam and The Dalles Lock and Dam on the Columbia River.
A Democratic proposal that was rejected in committee would also have provided $5 million to upgrade security at five high-profile facilities listed on the government's National Critical Infrastructure. Those five include the Hoover Dam, the Glen Canyon Dam and Washington's Grand Coulee Dam. Among those voting against the measure was Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.
The corps asked for the money to increase the number of security guards who patrol the dam as well as better fencing and other security measures.
For Ice Harbor, the bill would have provided $411,000 for extra security guards. It would have provided an equal amount for the Lower Monumental Lock and Dam on the Snake River as well. A third dam in the series on the Snake River, the Lower Granite Dam, also would have gotten $411,000 and the Lake Washington Ship Canal would have collected $93,000 for additional security.
Dicks argued that the money to protect dams and infrastructure -- and especially ports -- is critical because security experts have long worried about the glaring weaknesses that have defined those facilities.
"We're involved in a war that will stir up terrorists around the world to take shots at America and we're still not getting resources out to protect these facilities," Dicks said. "We are talking about modest funds to do some very important things."
Governors and mayors have been among the most vocal advocates for more federal money. "We need to get started," said Roger Nyhus, Gov. Gary Locke's spokesman. "Cities and states have been making expenditures to improve security since Sept. 11 and have had to make cuts in other programs."
Nyhus said it's "disappointing" that the White House and Congress are not providing enough to reimburse states.
The additional spending comes at a time when states are experiencing crippling financial crisis. Washington has a $2.6 billion deficit. Seattle, which also is squeezed, has spent more than $6 million to comply with federal security requests but has not been reimbursed.
Republicans agree that more needs to be done to protect the homeland, but they insist that the bill debated yesterday was not the proper place. And they insist that the government has provided enough money to adequately protect the country.
"I think we're OK right now for the money for homeland security," Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., said. "But it's frustrating (for states and local governments) that it takes time to move the money through the system."
Dunn, vice chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee, says Washington is in line to get $11 million in security grants. and she says that critics often overlook progress.
There is better cooperation between port operators, Customs officials and the Coast Guard, she said. Canada and the United States have moved aggressively to increase security along the northern border.
Complaining about the lack of money, she said, "is an easy gripe. It's an easy way to stir people up. But it doesn't mean it's accurate."
Administration officials note that the budget for homeland security has been tripled over the past three years and that billions of dollars have yet to be distributed.
Republicans also question the critics' motives.
"First responders are going to begin to see an influx (of money) in the coming weeks," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. "With Democrats, no amount is enough."
The bills considered by the House and Senate yesterday were basically in agreement. The House bill totaled $77.9 billion while the Senate's version was nearly $80 billion. President Bush requested $74.7 billion. Virtually all of the money -- $62.6 billion-- would be used to pay for combat in Iraq through September. And in defiance of the White House, both bills contain nearly $3 billion to help U.S. airlines weather tough times brought about by the war and terrorism.
The Senate bill also includes money to provide unemployment insurance for as many as 200,000 laid-off workers in airline and related industries nationwide. That amendment was sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Throughout the day and into the night, however, Republican leaders in both chambers rallied their members to quash Democratic amendments seeking to add money for homeland security.
The impenetrable unity of Republicans infuriated Democrats.
"The administration's supplemental budget suffers from a significant blind spot that we ignore at the peril of the safety and security of every American," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The request, he said, "fails to provide sufficient resources to address this nation's vulnerabilities to terrorist attack and our obligation to support the men and women who protect us."
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., joined the chorus, noting that two communities in his district -- Bothell and Monroe -- have spent a combined $245,000 on security and have yet to receive any compensation from the federal government.
Curb on Contracts
The House version of the war budget includes a provision barring companies from France, Germany, Russia and Syria from getting a U.S. contract to help rebuild Iraq. The measure, introduced by Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., was approved on a voice vote.
"If other nations are willing to join with the coalition of the willing, as equal partners, their support will be welcomed," Nethercutt said. "But those that seek to undercut the coalition at every turn should understand that our patience is not unlimited."
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