NJ Senators seek better port security

June 23, 2008 11:54:24 AM PDT
Port safety legislation proposed by New Jersey's U.S. senators would create minimum security standards for all shipping containers entering the nation's seaports. Cargo would be monitored from when it is packed into containers abroad until it reaches its destination in the United States, under the bill proposed by Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. Containers not meeting such standards would be refused entry.

The senators announced the bill on Monday with the support of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose operations include Port Elizabeth and Port Newark, some of the busiest ports in the nation.

The Bush administration earlier this month told a Lautenberg merchant marine subcommittee that a 2012 deadline to screen all U.S.-bound shipping cargo for radiological and nuclear materials is unrealistic.

A law passed last summer mandates that the Homeland Security Department screen all cargo headed for the U.S. Among the major obstacles to meeting the deadline: Trained U.S. officials would need to be deployed to more than 700 foreign ports to operate screening equipment.

The benefits of screening all cargo bound for the U.S. has long been challenged by the Bush administration. Jay Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told lawmakers this month that the plan is not a good use of taxpayer money.

He said it makes sense to do such screening in high-risk countries, such as Pakistan, but not in every country that ships to the U.S.

Lautenberg disagreed. "It's been seven years since 9/11 and President Bush has still not secured our ports. Port security is essential to protect our residents from terrorist attack, and if this administration won't adequately protect us, we will," he said in a statement. About 11.5 million containers come into the U.S. each year, he said.

The proposed law would also require each port region to develop a recovery plan to restore operations following a terrorist attack.