API, other groups ask PHMSA to clarify rail tank car safety roles

The American Petroleum Institute and nine other oil and gas industry and other business trade associations asked the US Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration to clarify its role as a rail tank car safety regulator and the industry’s role in recommending and developing new standards.

The groups want to establish unequivocally that the US Department of Transportation, and not the American Association of Railroads, has exclusive authority to determine which tank car standards are in the public interest, and that AAR has no power to require compliance with different standards, they said in their Aug. 12 petition for a PHMSA rulemaking.

“The proposed rules are desirable to remove any doubt that PHMSA has fully exercised its statutory authority to determine what tank car standards are in the public interest to the exclusion of [AAR], which has in the past and may in the future attempt to impose standards that may deviate from PHMSA’s regulations,” it said. AAR is continuing to review the groups’ rulemaking petition, a spokesman told OGJ via e-mail.

The American Chemistry Council, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Chlorine Institute, Fertilizer Institute, National Association of Chemical Distributors, National Industrial Transportation League, Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, Sulphur Institute, and US Clay Producers Traffic Association Inc. joined API in the petition.

“PHMSA’s role as the regulator for tank car safety ensures tank car safety designs are in the public interest. Attempts by third-party groups to deviate from PHMSA’s tank car requirements could compromise safety and jeopardize the strides industry has made to ensure the safe transport of products by rail,” API Midstream and Industry Operations Director Robin Rorick said.

Rorick said, “While industry voices from the railroads, shippers, and builders are critical to advancing safety by developing and recommending new and innovative safety measures, it needs to be clear that PHMSA is the sole authority for deciding what the tank car design requirements should be.”

ACC said the 10 groups filed the petition because AAR, through its majority control of the Tank Car Committee (TCC), continues to try to impose tank car requirements that are at odds with federal regulations and, in some cases, have been specifically considered and rejected by DOT.

While TCC plays an important role in developing consensus recommendations for improving tank car safety, it is DOT’s role to establish safety standards, ACC said. “If adopted, the petition would prevent the AAR or any party from imposing industry-wide requirements that are different from federal regulations, while allowing industry stakeholders to continue to work collaboratively on enhancing tank car safety through the TCC,” it said.

DOT standards reflect the minimum level of safety required by law, the AAR spokesman noted. “Through the [TCC] with its shipper representatives, as well as input from tank car manufacturers and suppliers, in addition to participation from the DOT, [National Transportation Safety Board], and other stakeholders, the entire focus is on identifying the safest way to transport goods, even if that goes beyond DOT regulations,” he said.

The committee’s overarching mission historically has been to make tank cars even safer by working with key stakeholders, he emphasized. “The fact is, through this shared responsibility, there have been dramatic improvements in rail safety in our country over the past several decades.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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