Sunday, September 14, 2014

Public Comments on PHMSA HHFT NPRM – 09-14-14

This is part of a continuing a series of blog posts that will look at the public comments on the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT). Earlier posts include:

There are 33 new posts this week including 22 that are part of the letter writing campaign that I mentioned yesterday. There is also an interesting new letter writing campaign that appears to be family based with 7 nearly identical comments about the risk posed by railroad tracks near a family member’s house.

There is an interesting comment on rights-of-way (ROW) that are shared between freight and passenger lines. The commenter recommends that lines sharing ROW should be constructed in accordance with the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) suggested standards of 25 ft separation of such lines.

I have noticed an interesting thread running through many of the negative comments against the transportation of crude oil. Most commenters mention both Bakken crude and tar sands oil as if they showed the same hazards. I think that this traces back to the fact that many environmentalists object to the tar sands oil extraction techniques and also object to the fracking techniques that are used in the Bakken fields. The two sets of objections are substantially different (as are the extraction techniques), but it is easier to lump the two together than keep the public's attention through explanations of the problems of each.

We have just two weeks left in the comment period for this rulemaking. I expect that we will start to see a trickle of comments from industry in the coming week, but I expect that the railroads and oil industry associations will be starting to file their requests for an extension of the comment period. A sixty day comment period for a rulemaking as complex as this is certainly shorter than normal; especially since there were new items added since the original ANPRM was published.

The Administration is under pressure, however, to ‘get something done’ quicker rather than better. I expect that they will deny those petitions. This will probably serve to delay the completion of this rule even more as the organizations principally affected will be requesting multiple meetings with the OMB’s Office of Information Regulatory Affairs once the final rule is submitted to that office for approval. Adding 30 days to the comment period now could eliminate the need for multiple rounds of OIRA-Industry-PHMSA back and forth later. It could also help reduce the number of post-final-rule law suits that would delay implementation. 

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