The House is taking the lead in drafting the next Highway Bill. As part of this bill, the House plans to reauthorize the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA). The HMTA is the law that controls all transportation of hazardous materials in the United States, including anhydrous ammonia fertilizer and fumigants. The HMTA has not been reauthorized since 2005; so, ARA has a list of issues to address in the HMTA that would improve the safety and efficiency of transporting crop production inputs.

ARA Testifies on HMTA IssuesOn May 12, Paul Derig; environmental, health and safety manager for the J.R. Simplot Company; testified on behalf of ARA before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials in a hearing entitled, “Reducing Regulatory Burdens and Ensuring Safe Transportation of Hazardous Materials.” The hearing’s purpose was to establish a record for the HMTA reauthorization later this spring.

Derig explained agricultural retailers’ and distributors’ important role in America’s crop production. He also asked Congress to address three issues in HMTA reauthorization—1) improve the Hazardous Materials Safety Permit (HMSP) program, 2) preempt state laws that cause an unreasonable burden on commerce, and 3) preempt state hazardous materials registration and permitting programs.

Currently, the HMSP program’s eligibility floats each two-year permitting cycle so that the bottom 30 percent in each of three safety categories are not eligible for HMSP, which results in a greater than 50 percent HMSP denial rate. Derig asked the committee to remove the floating eligibility level and set a known level of safety. He also asked the committee to aggregate the inspection rates for out of service, crash rate and hazardous materials so that a company’s overall safety record was considered. He also pointed out that rural carriers are at a statistical disadvantage in computing eligibility because of the relatively small number of inspections they receive compared to a long-haul carrier.

Then, Derig asked the committee to preempt state laws that result in a significant burden on commerce. He explained that it is a problem for federal programs when state laws are passed that are different than the federal law, and then a state enforcement official enforces the state regulation as if it were a federal law. In these cases, the discrepancy many times has serious consequences for a company’s ability to move product at the federal level.

Finally, he spoke about state hazardous materials registration programs and how they seem to be nothing but a paperwork exercise and a money generator for states, even when the company has never been inspected by a state registration. Derig asked Congress to consider doing away with these state hazardous materials registration and permitting programs.

ARA supports a strong federal system for regulating hazardous materials, so that these products can move in a safe and efficient manner. In addition to HMSP improvements, preemption of state regulations and doing away with state registration and permitting programs, ARA supports streamlining HAZMAT security licenses like the Hazardous Materials Endorsement and Transportation Worker Identification Credential.

ARA thanks Paul Derig and the J.R. Simplot Company for representing ARA before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. ARA looks forward to working with members of the committee to institute positive changes in HMTA reauthorization for the agricultural retail and distribution industry.