Sunday, June 15, 2014

HR 4738 Introduced – DOT-111 Tank Cars

As I mentioned last month Rep. Payne (D,NJ) introduced HR 4738, the Tank CarSafety Act of 2014. This is a relatively simplistic reaction to the length of time that it is taking DOT and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) to address the safety design problems with the current (and very large) fleet of DOT-111 tank cars that are used to transport flammable liquids including crude oil.

Section 2 of the very short bill provides two general requirements for the Secretary of Transportation. First it requires the Secretary to complete a rulemaking process within 1 year, a practical impossibility given the controversial and expensive nature of the requirements mandated for that rulemaking. The second requires the Secretary to submit the obligatory report to Congress about a phase out (“on an aggressive basis”) of “older-model DOT–111 tank cars used to move flammable liquids that are not retrofitted to meet new Federal requirements established under this section” {§2(b)}

The “new Federal requirements” mentioned are those that this bill would be require the Secretary to impose under the regulations described above. Those requirements include {§2(a)(1)}:

• Outer steel jacket around the tank car;
• Thermal protection;
• Full-height head shields; and
• High-flow capacity pressure relief valves

Now these are all certainly features that would make the DOT-111 tank cars safer if properly implemented. Unfortunately, they are also more than a little vague and modifications could be made fitting these descriptions that would do very little to increase the safety of the load, or could be so onerous as to make the railcar unusable. The devil is in the detail and that is what takes so much time in a serious rulemaking like this.

Could PHMSA move faster on this rulemaking? Certainly; but PHMSA has so many rulemakings in progress (a term used very loosely here) that there are manpower constraints that impede fast action on anything, not to mention the resistance from railroads and DOT-111 car owner because of the costs involved in upgrading this very large fleet.

One final note; Congress has not been real successful in getting Federal agencies to comply with deadlines imposed by statute. The only enforcement tool that legislators have is the power of the purse string, but cutting funding can only increase the time to complete something, so it is a very empty threat.

I don’t expect that we will hear much about this legislation.

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