The following is the opening statement of US Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Ranking Republican, from a hearing entitled ‘Concerns with Hazardous Materials Safety in the US: Is PHMSA Performing its Mission?’ The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) oversees federal programs and regulations to ensure the safe movement of hazardous materials by all modes of transportation.
‘The Department of Transportation Inspector General has raised legitimate concerns about PHMSA’s handling of special permits and approvals for hazardous materials transportation practices that fall outside of the normal regulations. We want to make sure that PHMSA is following its own regulations and doing an adequate job vetting companies before issuing permits and approvals. I look forward to hearing from PHMSA on how they plan to improve this process, including an explanation of the action plan they have developed.
‘I also look forward to hearing from the Institute of Makers of Explosives about advances in the safety of transporting blasting materials essential to the mining and construction industries. Given the inherent risks associated with transporting materials designed to explode, the industry has an outstanding safety record. The use of Multipurpose Bulk Trucks (MBT’s) allows the industry to move a wide range of materials necessary for blasting operations all in the same vehicle, thereby reducing the total number of vehicles carrying hazmat over the highways. Remarkably, these MBT’s have never caused a single injury or fatality in transportation.
‘We need to strike a balance in hazmat transportation policy between making sure that appropriate safeguards are in place, while at the same time being careful that we do not unnecessarily burden the workhorse industries of our economy.
‘Safe and efficient transportation of hazardous materials is enormously important to the national economy and our way of life. Twenty-eight percent, nearly a third, of all ton-miles of annual freight on our roads, rails, waterways and air cargo is considered a hazardous material. These shipments include everything from heating oil, gasoline, fertilizer, drinking water chemicals, and medical materials to diagnose and treat the sick. It is absolutely essential that we be able to safely and quickly deliver a wide range of potentially dangerous materials without unnecessary bureaucratic interference.
‘Hazmat carriers have a remarkable safety record. The percentage of movements of hazardous goods resulting in an injury or fatality is an astonishing statistic. I’ve said it before, but about 0.00002% result in an injury, and about 0.0000014% of movements result in a fatality. There are about four times as many deaths caused by lightning strikes annually than by hazardous materials transportation accidents. So this is really a remarkably safe industry considering the volume of goods that flow in commerce.
‘Of course, when you are talking about moving dangerous goods, there is going to be risk, and there are going to be accidents. There is no way to completely eliminate risk. What we need to do is make careful choices about where we can best use our resources to minimize these risks, while maintaining an effectively functioning system. If we regulate too much, we risk knotting the system in so much red tape that it will cease to be effective for its users, and could damage the economy and our society.’