Protecting our roadways from terrorists

December 1, 2001 By    

Should ground transportation law be rewritten to consider protecting fuel from terrorist attack? Or should the government back off from regulating the trucking industry? An already hectic Congress just had these issues dumped in its lap.

The Bush administration sent a proposed legislative package, the Hazardous Material Transportation Safety Act of 2001, to Congress. The plan calls for cutting regulations. As a traditional courtesy, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC) introduced it in the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which Hollings chairs. Hollings expressed misgivings about the plan as he introduced it. In the House, the package went to the committees on Transportation & Infrastructure and Government Reform.

The legislation would remove the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s authority over workers who handle and transport hazardous materials, a provision Hollings said he disliked. The bill also would increase from two to four years the time between exemption reviews from hazmat regulations.

“In our current security environment, creating more exemptions from hazardous materials regulations may not be the most prudent course of action,” Hollings said in introducing the bill.

“The 1,000 pages of federal hazardous materials transportation regulations were designed primarily to promote safety during transportation, not to ensure security and reduce risks from terrorist attacks,” says Hollings, who wants to increase funding to train local emergency response teams to deal with hazmat accidents.

House and Senate committee staffers say they have been preoccupied with aviation security and haven’t had a chance to examine the ground transportation issue yet. Nor could they say when Congress would take up the issue.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service outlined proposals for Congress to consider when reauthorizing HMTA. It even suggested restructuring the Department of Transportation’s regulatory purpose and structure.

DOT and HMTA have focused on the accidental release of material during transport – not protecting shipments from terrorist attacks. Since industry funds its own regulation through user fees, however, it likely would balk at paying for more rules.

The American Trucking Association wants a law allowing motor carriers to conduct criminal background checks of employees and applicants. But criminal background or security checks would create added burdens on state and federal law enforcement agencies, as nearly 2.5 million drivers have an endorsement allowing them to carry hazardous materials.

Congress would have to consider what type of criminal conviction or other problem would disqualify an individual from driving, or at what point non-citizens could be disqualified.

In Brief

  • LIHEAP dollars
    Though approved by Congress, emergency energy assistance funds won’t be issued until and unless the nation suffers an emergency. Congress approved an additional $300 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, but President Bush won’t give the OK to spend it unless he declares an emergency.
    States are getting their LIHEAP allotment at 2001 levels. Linda Hill, outgoing director of the Division of Energy Assistance at the Administration for Children & Families, says Bush will wait for a weather-related disaster or energy price spike before releasing more funds.
    The Senate, meanwhile, added a non-binding request to its 2002 funding bill, calling on Bush to release the $300 million immediately.
    While Congress has delayed passing national energy legislation, Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) is gunning for more LIHEAP funding through the Comprehensive Energy Conservation Act for the 21st Century. The bill would increase LIHEAP funding to $9 billion in 2002, and $12.6 billion in 2003 and 2004. The bill would also fund weatherization at $1 billion in 2002 and $2 billion in 2003.
    The measure also would give the federal government $250,000 in 2002 and 2003 to operate the Energy Star program and create a 30 percent tax credit for individuals and small businesses (those with fewer than 100 employees) buying Energy Star products.
  • Us, too
    Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress, Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D), has introduced legislation that would make Puerto Rico eligible for LIHEAP benefits.
  • Vehicle tax incentives
    If an economic stimulus package becomes law, it likely will extend the tax deduction for propane-powered vehicles.
    Bills in both houses would extend the clean-fuel vehicle deduction through 2003. The tax deduction was supposed to phase down starting in 2002. If the measure passes, buyers could get some credit through 2006.
    The House passed the measure as part of its plan to revive the economy. So did the Senate Finance Committee, but the measure got bogged down on the Senate floor and faced an uncertain outcome.
    The legislation would also extend the deduction for clean-fuel refueling property by a year, allowing a deduction for any station opening through 2006.
  • Propane prices
    November propane prices remained well below those of a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration.
    The residential average price the week of Nov. 15 stood at $1.235 per gallon, down 15.2 cents from one year ago. The wholesale average price fell 21.4 cents from 65.3 cents per gallon to 43.9 cents over the year.
    Stocks increased from 59.885 million barrels to 65.507 million.
  • Conservation hit list
    More – or different – products may become subject to federal energy conservation standards. The Bush administration’s Department of Energy is reassessing priorities for the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products and Commercial and Industrial Equipment.
    DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is considering regulating new products. It also is looking at new criteria, processes and data analysis used in deciding efficiency levels. The effort falls under the president’s national energy policy, as recommended by the National Energy Policy Development Group.
    The office also is weighing other ways it can help users save energy, such as voluntary programs, consumer education, or changes in law or regulation. DOE will consider new rules for products such as heat pumps, furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, washers and dryers.
  • Finding good help
    It took months to find the right people with the right experience. That’s why the Research & Special Programs Administration delayed hiring four pipeline specialists last year, a high RSPA official tells us. The House voted to cut RSPA’s request for additional staffing in 2002 after the agency was ripped for not filling all its allotted slots for 2001.
    Officially, however, a RSPA spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the appropriations process except to say “we support the president’s budget.”
    Should a problem in a pipeline automatically require a repair? Some commenters on proposed pipeline rules suggest that other actions may suffice in some cases. Further testing, changing the way lines are administered or operated may do. So say operators responding to RSPA’s proposed rules on extending safety and administrative regs to operators of less than 500 miles of pipelines. Current rules adopted last year apply only to operators
    of larger lines.
    DoT’s Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Advisory Committee discussed comments at an August meeting. It hasn’t decided what action to take yet, said Mike Israni, program manager for DoT’s Pipeline Integrity Management Group.
    In response to the above comments, DoT is considering replacing the call for “repair” with “mitigate or repair” except for “immediate hazardous conditions,” Israni said.
    Several commenters, including the American Petroleum Institute, complained of the 60-day deadline for fixing all dents. API says that not all small dents create safety problems and as inspection methods improve, operators will find many more small ones. DoT is reconsidering.
    But should the rules differ at all for operators of large and small pipelines? DoT “interviewed some of these small operators and we found out that the majority of those operators – or many of those operators were actually large companies and – and they were capable of – at least 50 percent of them or more were capable of smart-pigging their pipelines,” Israni stated.
    But the Small Business Administration – which rarely comments on RSPA matters, complained that RSPA’s regulatory flexibility analysis didn’t adequately consider small business.
    RSPA figures that the proposed rules would only apply to about 5,400 miles of pipeline.


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