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DOT releases new transportation regulations

July 1, 2005 By    

The Department of Transportation issued a series of new rules this spring governing the transportation of propane.

The Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration modified its rules regarding loading, unloading and storage of hazardous materials in response to appeals of final rules issued in 2003. Under the revision, which took effect June 1, PHMSA redefined some terms and added a new one, “pre-transportation function,” which refers to activities required to assure safe transport before loading.

 Charles Pekow
Charles Pekow

The new rules also list “regulated” and “non-regulated functions.” Regulations don’t apply to moving hazmat “solely within a continuous facility where public access is restricted,” transportation by any federal, state or local government only for its own use, and non-commercial use in a private vehicle.

The new rules also note that hazmat law does not preempt other federal statutes and they correct and clarify other points.

PHMSA also alerted pipeline operators to plan for emergencies with nearby utilities on actions such as “removing sources of ignition or reducing the amount of combustible material.”

An explosion and fire in a breakout tank in Oklahoma two years ago that caused power lines to fall into a dike prompted PHMSA’s warning. The fire burned more than 20 hours, leading to evacuations and more than $2 million in damages. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the lack of a coordinated response plan increased the accident’s severity.

PHMSA reminds operators they “should carefully look at the environment surrounding the pipeline facility and the risks that the environment will pose in the event of a pipeline emergency.” Preplans should include outreach to utilities to coordinate responses.

Another DOT agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, has barred states from giving hazmat endorsements to commercial drivers licenses until the Transportation Security Administration completes security threat assessments on applicants.

It also cut the notice time that states must give drivers when informing them they will get an assessment before renewing an endorsement.

FMCSA changed its Rules of Practice for Motor Carrier, Broker, Freight Forwarder and Hazardous Materials Proceedings. FMCSA says the changes will increase procedure efficiency, due process and awareness, as well as comply with recent program changes affecting enforcement action.

The new rules clarify FMCSA’s functions, noting that lawyers involved in enforcement and litigation won’t be doubling as agency legal advisors and clarify procedures for default judgments when accused parties don’t respond.

The rules spell out procedures for less costly “informal hearings” to resolve complaints at respondents’ option. They also allow FMCSA to stay sanctions during appeals. The rules will take effect Nov. 14.

Briefly Speaking

Notes from Capitol Hill.

Transportation funding approved

Congress approved funding for a $284 billion surface transportation bill, plus more if the Highway Trust Fund gets additional appropriations. The House and Senate passed different authorization bills, however. The Senate version includes a proposed $5 million per year Grant Program for Commercial Driver Training. Commercial driving schools would get the funds if they matched them 20 percent.

New appropriations bill

The House approved an appropriations bill for FY 06 with $235.4 million for Weatherization Assistance Grants, $4.6 million for Training & Technical Assistance, $41 million for State Energy Program Grants, $500,000 for State Energy Activities, $350,000 for Energy Efficiency Information & Outreach, $5.5 million for Building Codes Training & Assistance, and $6 million for Energy Star.

Washing machine credits

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced the Resource Efficient Appliance Incentives Act of 2005, referred to the Finance Committee. The bill would give tax credits to domestic manufacturers for energy efficient washing machines: the greater the efficiency, the greater the credit. Manufacturers could only get credits if they increase production levels over three years.

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