Hazardous materials carriers want Congress to change several regulations when it writes the next highway law.

William Downey, executive vice president for Kenan Advantage Group, told legislators at a Wednesday hearing that Congress should tell the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration to withdraw its proposed wetlines rule.

Downey, who was speaking for American Trucking Associations, also said that the requirements for obtaining a hazmat endorsement to the Commercial Driver License can be improved.

Further, the next law should do a better job of distinguishing between the responsibilities of hazmat shippers and carriers, and it should help the permitting process by promoting the Alliance for Uniform Hazmat Transportation Procedures, Downey said.

The wetlines question drew the attention of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The issue concerns a 2011 proposal by PHMSA to limit the flammable liquid that could be carried in unprotected wetlines, the pipes that run beneath fuel tankers.

The risk is that the fuel in wetlines can spill and ignite in an accident, but tank carriers contend that expense of installing pumps to empty the wetlines far outweighs the benefits, particularly since there’s an additional risk of explosion from welding retrofit pumps onto tank trailers.

Tank carriers got Congress to require the Government Accountability Office to analyze the rule.

Denham noted that GAO’s 2013 analysis raised questions about the data the agency used and its assessment of the proposal’s costs and benefit.

“Yet PHMSA refuses to withdraw the proposed rule,” he said to the agency’s administrator, Cynthia Quarterman. “Do you plan to withdraw it?”

Quarterman acknowledged that the analysis was critical of the proposal and said the agency is looking at GAO’s recommendations on how to improve the data.

In the next several months the agency will decide how to proceed – to either withdraw the proposal or move forward, Quarterman said.

She noted that Downey had suggested the alternative of using the money that would go to retrofitting wetline pumps for training drivers and installing anti-rollover technology on the trucks, and said she welcomes hearing more about that approach.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on a rule that would require stability control systems on truck tractors. That rule is scheduled to be published in October.

The problem with the hazmat endorsement to the CDL is that it requires all hazmat drivers to clear a fingerprint-based background check, Downey said. That includes drivers who are hauling hazmats such as paint, nail polish or perfumes containing alcohol, as well as those hauling weaponizable products.

It makes more sense to require the fingerprint check for drivers who just haul the more dangerous goods, he said. The other drivers should only have to clear a name-based check.

The law also could be improved by drawing a bright line between the responsibilities of hazmat shippers and carriers, Downey said. Carriers can find themselves at risk in roadside inspections when they are dinged for hazmat violations that the shipper should have prevented.

The other improvement concerns problems at the state level with obtaining hazmat permits. Downey said that five states – Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia – have formed the Alliance for Uniform Hazmat Transportation Procedures to simplify the permitting process. The industry would prefer to do away with duplicative permits, but the alternative is to require all states to join the Alliance, Downey said.

About the author
Oliver Patton

Oliver Patton

Former Washington Editor

Truck journalist 36 years, who joined Heavy Duty Trucking in 1998 and has retired. He was the trucking press’ leading authority on legislative and regulatory affairs.

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