Ten years after Oklahoma City, Congress moves to regulate sale of ammonium nitrate

Published 15 December 2005

During the ten years since Oklahoma City, the NRA and the agricultural lobby have succeeded in keeping America utterly exposed to the next Timothy McVeigh, or another crackpot or terrorist, choosing to use fertilizer as a weapon; finally Congress is saying “Enough!”

Ten years ago Timothy McVeigh brought down an office building in Oklahoma City using nothing more than a truck full with fertilizers. After the tragedy it occurred to many that unregulated fertilizer offered terrorists and crackpots readily available explosives with which to wreak havoc (a committee of National Academy of Sciences-appointed experts in 1998 identified ammonium nitrate as “by far the most commonly accessible explosive material”). Efforts to regulate and monitor the sale of fertilizers floundered, however, in the face of stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the farm lobby. Just as Congress became impatient with the fiction of the chemical industry’s self-regulation (see yesterday’s report), a House subcommittee is now showing its impatience with the inexplicably relaxed attitude toward fertilizers. Also, just as the leaders of the chemical industry came to the realization that the charade of self-regulation could no longer be maintained, so also the leaders of the major agricultural lobbies now agree that something must be done to control dangerous fertilizers. The Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack approved the bill (HR 3197) by a 9-0 vote to authorize DHS to regulate the handling of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer which can also be used to make explosives. The bill is sponsored by Curt Weldon (R-Pa).

It may be difficult to believe, but currently there are no federal regulations on the sale and purchase of ammonium nitrate. The bill would force dealers and buyers of ammonium nitrate to register with DHS. The department could enter into agreements with states to audit records and fine handlers up to $50,000 if they fail to comply with the regulations.

-read more in Tim Starks’ CQ report (sub. req.)