June 2, 2014 2:00 AM, EDT

NTTC Seeks Congress’ Help to Squelch Wetlines Plan

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 2 print edition of Transport Topics.

National Tank Truck Carriers officials said they are pushing for legislation that would force the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to withdraw its wetlines proposal, which was issued more than three years ago.

NTTC President Daniel Furth said members have become increasingly frustrated with delays by PHMSA in killing the proposal, which has not happened even though a Government Accountability Office report last year concluded the agency relied on flawed data.

“I’ve pressured them to withdraw it,” Furth told Transport Topics. “They said they want to meet with us but they haven’t, and they aren’t doing anything. So we’re trying desperately to get some legislation and help put an end to the proposal.”

NTTC officials were scheduled to meet late last week with a bipartisan group of members and staff on the House Transportation Committee and its subcommittee that addresses hazardous materials issues.

PHMSA’s January 2011 proposal would require carriers who haul flammable liquids to either retrofit their existing tankers to protect wetlines or install a system to purge product from the lines.

A PHMSA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by press time. The agency has not commented on the proposal, but a Department of Transportation report projects that the agency will issue a final rule in January 2015.

“We provided a draft of this report to the Department of Transportation for review and comment. DOT indicated that PHMSA would take this report into consideration as it continues to consider rulemaking and works to improve its incident data collection and internal review procedures,” the GAO report said.

However, PHMSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have long maintained that wetlines’ protective retrofits will save lives for a relatively modest cost.

Tank truck operators, however, say the dangers of vapor escape during retrofit installations potentially would cause more deaths in the shop than wetlines could ever cause on highways.

“It is way more dangerous to weld, drill or do anything to the integrity of the tank,” Furth said. “There is no need, and there also is no engineered solution.”

NTTC said that at a meeting earlier this year PHMSA executives told members of the Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles that the agency still intends to pursue a wetlines final rule later this year.

However, at a recent hearing, PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman told House members her agency is reviewing the GAO report and expects to decide “in the next few months” whether to withdraw the wetlines proposal.

Quarterman said her agency has worked hard to improve the quality of its data.

Sara Vermillion, an assistant director with GAO who worked on the report, told TT that she “wouldn’t feel comfortable” if PHMSA went ahead with its proposal with the analysis and the data that the agency was using.

PHMSA has had two prior unsuccessful attempts to implement a wetlines rule, most recently in 2006, when the agency withdrew a proposal.

“We’ve beat it twice, and we’re going to stay at it,” said NTTC Chairman Dean Kaplan, executive vice president of bulk transport carrier K-Limited, based in Toledo, Ohio. “Our frustration on the tank truckers’ side is we’re still throwing money at it to beat it.”