Comment Period Closing October 12: PHMSA Proposed Rule on Efficient Transportation of COVID-19 Supplies

On August 10, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comments on proposed amendments to the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).  86 Fed. Reg. 43844 (August 10, 2021).  PHMSA coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard in the development of the NPRM.

PHMSA states that the proposed amendments are intended to facilitate the transportation of vaccines and other medical materials needed in response to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.  Additionally, the amendments seek to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing delays and interruptions of hazardous materials during transportation and by supporting the increased demand for transporting lithium batteries due to electrification of the automobile sector.

PHMSA Acting Administrator Tristan Brown stated in PHMSA press release: “As communities continue to battle COVID-19, this rule would make it easier to ship and receive medical supplies. The rule also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve efficiencies and reduce regulatory burdens for small businesses.”  (We can’t help but noting - Tristan is a Van Ness Feldman alum and was active in the ATLP Young Professionals Group for several years.)

The NPRM, among other things, would amend the HMR by incorporating various international consensus standards, including standards for the manufacture, use, and requalification of pressure vessels, which are used to transport a large array of gases including those used in COVID-19 and other medical treatments.  Additionally, it would incorporate changes to proper shipping names, hazard classes, packing groups, special provisions, packaging authorizations, air transport quantity limitations, and vessel stowage requirements.  Specifically, the NPRM would amend the HMR to authorize motor carrier and rail transportation within the United States under a temporary certificate issued under Transport Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations. The NPRM also contains multiple amendments intended to reduce regulatory burdens on the transportation of lithium batteries and the transportation of fuel cell cartridges for recycling or disposal. 

PHMSA notes that the amendments proposed are intended to result in cost savings and reduced regulatory burden for domestic, international, and North American trans-border shippers by eliminating the need to comply with a dual system of regulations.  PHMSA further notes that the NPRM is consistent with a series of Executive Orders coordinating federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and President Biden’s goal of reducing national GHG emissions to combat climate change.

Comments on the NPRM are due October 12, 2021.  Comments can be submitted through in Docket No. PHMSA-2019-0030 (HM-215P).

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