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January 22, 2015 1:20 PM, EST

DeFazio Blasts DOT Over Failure to Finalize Tank Car Rule, Calls for PHMSA Audit

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News
Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, blasted the Department of Transportation for what he called repeated failures to address “longstanding and undisputed” pipeline and hazardous materials safety issues, including oil train safety.

A pending rule on standards for oil train tank cars is “a prime example” of the department’s failure, DeFazio said in a Jan 22 letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that also said an audit of PHMSA by the DOT’s Inspector General will be requested.

DOT says finalizing the tank car rule is one of its highest priorities, yet the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is not expected to issue the rule until May, the Oregon congressman said.

“The National Transportation Safety Board has raised concerns about the ‘high incidence of failure’ of DOT-111 tank cars since 1991,” DeFazio said.

“In fact, over the last 10 years, the NTSB has investigated or is currently investigating seven accidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials in DOT-111 tank cars.”

The DeFazio letter also said that, in 2011, the Association of American Railroads petitioned PHMSA to conduct a rulemaking on new tank-car design standards, but the petition “seemingly languished in the bowels of the agency until 2013, when a train transporting crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and completely destroyed the town center.”

DeFazio said his concerns about PHMSA extend to the agency’s “failure to address long-standing, significant safety issues extend to pipelines, as well.”

In multiple pipeline accident investigations over the past 15 years, NTSB has pinpointed the same safety issues but failed to act, DeFazio said.

“Each and every time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action,” he said, citing the agency’s failure to finalize safety requirements mandated by Congress, including one that pipeline operators install automatic shutoff valves.