October 17, 2016

DeFazio Criticizes Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration After Report Finds Lack of Progress on Rulemakings

EUGENE, OR—Today, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) raised concerns with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) after a report released by the Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG) found serious issues with the implementation of critical recommendations regarding pipeline and hazardous materials safety. In February 2015, DeFazio requested the IG investigation and expressed serious concerns over the time taken to establish vital new regulations to phase out old, dangerous tank cars carrying hazardous materials.

“The Inspector General audit of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shed some needed light on an agency that is slow to address longstanding safety issues that jeopardize the health and safety of our communities. The report found that PHMSA fails to meet critical deadlines for safety rules mandated by Congress and other government agencies. For example, PHMSA failed to coordinate with the FAA on standards for safe international transport of hazmat including lithium batteries by air. I am pleased that PHMSA has accepted the IG recommendations, but the key is in their implementation and already PHMSA says it won’t be able to implement the recommendations until December 2017, far too long to address such significant concerns and to ensure the health and safety of our communities and the American public,” said DeFazio.

In response to the report, DeFazio sent a letter to Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Anthony Foxx, urging DOT to address the critical IG recommendations before another tragedy occurs.

Key findings included in the report:

  • Since 2005, PHMSA implemented 173 of its 263 mandates and recommendations, but missed many deadlines. PHMSA failed to implement 20 of 81 mandates (25 percent), including 9 congressional mandates from the 2011 pipeline safety reauthorization act, and 11 hazmat congressional mandates. In addition, 60 of 118 recommendations (51 percent) from the NTSB, and 10 of 64 recommendations from the GAO and IG (16 percent) remain open.
  • PHMSA missed about 75 percent of the deadlines mandated by Congress and 85 percent of their own internal rulemaking deadlines that were established by the Secretary and agreed upon by PHMSA.
  • There are no procedures in place for how PHMSA determines and establishes safety priorities; PHMSA does not document reasons for delays of critical rulemakings and the agency lacks leadership when determining how to proceed with rulemakings.
  • PHMSA does not respond to written communications from the NTSB in a timely manner.

Of significant concern is PHMSA’s repeated failure to coordinate with the other DOT operating administrations. According to the IG, PHMSA has not adequately coordinated on rulemaking and international standards development with three other operating administrations—the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—involved with hazmat transportation as required by DOT Order. PHMSA has not established agreements regarding how it and other operating administrations will coordinate, or developed policy and guidance on how to respond to safety concerns from FAA, FMCSA, and FRA. As a result, disputes have arisen between PHMSA and the operating administrations that have delayed PHMSA’s rulemakings.

For example, the IG states that PHMSA has not adequately coordinated with the FAA on standards for the safe transport of hazmat including lithium batteries by air. FAA officials stated that PHMSA did not communicate with FAA on its August 2015 letter to a private individual in response to a request for interpretation of current regulations on the classification of certain lithium ion batteries. According to FAA officials, PHMSA’s interpretation in its response to the letter was important and the lack of communication resulted in confusion and disagreement about the issue between the operating administrations during an international meeting. PHMSA has proposed addressing the IG recommendations through issuance of a statement of policy, rather than a memorandum of understanding as recommended by the IG, which will not be implemented until December 2017.

The full report can be found here.