Maryland leaders worry about shift in DHS priorities after elections

to treat it as the only threat,” Chertoff said. “I think small boats are a potential threat. I think general aviation coming from overseas is a potential threat. To be perfectly honest, if you had a nuclear bomb, it might make more sense to bring it in with a private airplane than to stick it into a container.”

A 2001 fire in Baltimore’s Howard Street tunnel starkly illustrated the risks of rail cargo. The threat from hazardous materials comes mainly if trains remain idle in urban areas, providing a sitting target, Chertoff said. Railroads have enacted policies to cut down on idle time, he said. Maryland leaders say they are generally satisfied with the level of security at Baltimore’s port and in surrounding areas. “I think their guard is up,” said state Senator James DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat who oversees public safety and transportation spending. “There’s going to be competition for every dollar. But your No. 1 focus has to be on securing your homeland. I don’t see that changing.”

Some glitches remain. DeGrange and McHale have concerns over a new identification card system for employees who need access to the port. The federal program, they say, is less rigorous than the access cards currently used by port workers. The railroad industry says it wants fewer dangerous chemicals being manufactured, shipped and stored. This is the best way to cut down on risk. “The only way to really get at the issue is to eliminate the targets,” said Peggy Wilhide Nasir, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads. The association is calling for water treatment plants to use liquid bleach or ultraviolet light to kill contaminants, for example, rather than hazardous chlorine gas. When the Blue Plains waste treatment plant in Washington, D.C., made such a switch in 2001, 1.7 million people — including many Marylanders — were no longer exposed to the potential threat of chlorine gas, according to a report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank. “When you are moving hazardous materials, there is always a risk,” Nasir said. “We need as a nation to move toward safer substitutes, because they are out there.”

Maryland’s counties and largest cities received $29 million in federal homeland security grants last year, an $8 million increase from a year earlier, according to the governor’s office. The grants pay for projects such as improved communications systems for police and firefighters. That type of funding must continue, even under the next administration, Chertoff said, even if the public never really notices the benefits. There is a tendency, he said, for politicians “not to want to spend money unless the fruits and the benefits are harvested within an election cycle.” The phenomenon has a name: Not In My Term of Office. “All the things I’m talking about … if I’m lucky, we will never see the benefit of that during my term of office, because it will have deterred something, or it will have prevented something, and it just won’t be visible,” Chertoff said. “And that’s fine.”