Tuesday, September 15, 2009

House T&I panel berates PHMSA for hazmat permitting record

WASHINGTON - The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that oversees pipeline and other transport of hazardous materials has a lax permitting policy and maintains too cozy a relationship with the industry it regulates, according to the findings of congressional and Office of the Inspector General investigations that were released on Sept. 10 during a House oversight hearing.
PHMSA's oversight of hazardous materials transportation has raised safety concerns, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel III said at the hearing.
"This agency needs a house cleaning," Oberstar said. "Safety is not a one-time snapshot; it's continued vigilance... and this agency has lost its way and along the way has developed a very cozy relationship with the industry it regulates."
The five-year-old agency has been issuing permits without reviewing companies' prior incident and enforcement histories and has been generous in issuing and regulating special permits, which authorize activities not covered under hazardous materials regulations.
Among other accusations, Oberstar and Scovel said PHMSA in some cases does not know where the special permits are being used; grants them to trade organizations that can pass them along to members in a blanket fashion; and relies on self-certification by the special permit applicants.
Sixty-five percent of the nonemergency special permits studied in the investigation were either incomplete, lacking evidence showing the applicant's safety record or were nonexistent, according to the inspector general's report. And of the 16 companies that held the majority of the special permits studied, none fully complied with the terms and conditions of the permits.
"Regulating and monitoring the movement of hazardous materials is a critical part of ensuring the safety of the nation's transportation system, and it is PHMSA's role to properly assess all risks before allowing applicants to participate in commerce under special permits and approvals," Scovel said.

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