Wednesday, July 23, 2008

PHMSA Issues Request for Comments

In today’s Federal Register is a Notice for Petitions for Rule Making from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). It deals with two separate petitions requesting that PHMSA issue an interim rule providing for allowing for the design and building of a new series of railcars for the shipment of PIH chemical while the PHMSA completes its current rule making process on PIH Tank Car Construction Standards (see: “Proposed Rail Rule Will Increase Pressure for IST”). Comments are required to be submitted by August 22, 2008.


Problems with the Current Proposed Rule


As I noted in a series of blogs (see: “Comments on Rail Security and Safety Rules – 6-16-08” the last in the series) there have been some serious concerns expressed by shippers and the railroads about the unintended consequences of that rule. Since the proposed rule mandates an 8 year phase out of all current railcars used in the transport of PIH chemicals, no new railcars for that service are being produced or designed pending final action on the proposed rule.


This means that the PIH rail fleet is getting smaller as out-of-date railcars are removed from service. Additionally, fleet upgrade programs at many larger PIH shippers have been stopped, leaving less-safe railcars still in service. Comment after comment from the industry recommended that PHMSA issue an interim rule to encourage the production of the current state of the art PIH railcar until the radical new design is completed, tested and fielded.


Petitions for an Interim Rule


PHMSA has receivedtwo formal petitions to do just that. While the details of the two different petitions are different, they both seek an interim rule establishing a transitional standard that would allow an adequate service life for the new cars added to the fleet between now and the time the more radical proposed standard goes into effect.


PHMSA is looking for comments on these two petitions. In the Federal Register notice PHMSA put it this way:


  • “This document is issued to obtain comments on the merits of the petitions and to assist PHMSA in making a decision of whether to proceed to issue a rule responding to the petitions under the ongoing HM-246 tank car rulemaking.”

 In most cases the comments will be a re-hash of the comments that had already been submitted on the current rule. It will be interesting to see what new data may be added. Even with the short comment period (30 days) I don’t see the PHMSA moving on this petition quickly. The Bush Administration has already announced that it is going to slow up on starting new rules in its last six months in office so it will probably be the next administration that will guide any potential interim rule through bureaucratic process.

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