Bobtail tax victory at hand

December 1, 2002 By    

The bobtail tax will be lowered and those who overpaid likely can get refunds. Fifteen hazmat carrier groups, including the National Propane Gas Association, sued the Research & Special Programs Administration saying it lacked authority to continue collecting the tax after exceeding the statutory limit for the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Fund (see April column).

RSPA is only allowed to maintain a balance of $14.3 million, yet amassed a surplus of about $25 million. The suit, filed in federal court in Washington D.C., asked that RSPA either stop collecting the fee or spend the balance.

RSPA had been waiting for authority to spend the balance, but Congress had not passed funding legislation for 2003.

RSPA plans to reduce the fees over the next three years to eliminate the surplus. Fees will be cut from $2,000 to $300 for large carriers and shippers. The rates for smaller shippers is undecided, but it will be less than $250, says plaintiffs’ lawyer Richard Schweitzer. The new fee schedule will take effect  July 1. Anyone who paid in advance will get a refund, but the details are yet to be worked out.

RSPA’s general counsel issued a statement saying it intends to issue the final rule by Jan. 29. The agency will not seek further public comment before issuing the rule, but it took comments two years ago. “If they do what they say, perhaps we’ll be disposed to drop the suit,” Schweitzer says.

Briefly Speaking

  • EIA prediction

The Energy Information Administration has lowered its price increase forecast and now predicts that propane-heated homes will see price increases of about 19 percent this winter. The prediction, down from the previous 22 percent forecast, assumes normal weather patterns.

EIA also reported that residential propane prices in November were 3  cents per gallon higher than a year ago and that stocks had dropped because of cold weather in October and November. Wholesale prices rose from 53.7 cents to 55.2 cents per gallon over the year.

  • Road hogs

The nation’s highways are likely to get more congested over the next eight years, increasing the time hazmat trucks will spend idling in traffic. A possible remedy: a coordinated focus on seeing all transportation modes (auto, train, boat) as one system, suggests the General Accounting Office.

Likewise, transportation officials may want to consider using a variety of solutions, including building new highways, instituting peak hour tolls to encourage moving freight at off hours, etc. For a complete discussion, see Surface & Maritime Transportation: Developing Strategies for Enhancing Mobility: A National Challenge, GAO-02-775, available at

  • Suggestions for OSHA

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration plans to eliminate “outdated, duplicative, unnecessary or inconsistent” language to ease regulatory burdens. If you’ve got any ideas, fax them to OSHA at 202-693-1648.

  • Efficiency standards

The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has started the process of setting energy efficiency standards for small air conditioners and heat pumps.

The rules will cover units exempted from standards published earlier this year (see the July column). The agency is taking
public comments through Jan. 8 on plans for setting test procedures for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps, as well as energy conservation standards for small-duct, high-velocity units.

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