Congress issues draft legislation to ban tank trailer wetlines

July 1, 2009
Petroleum haulers and other tank trailer owners got good news and bad news on the wetlines issue from the House of Representatives

Petroleum haulers and other tank trailer owners got good news and bad news on the wetlines issue from the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

First the bad news: On June 22, the committee released its draft of the Hazardous Material Transportation Act Reauthorization Bill, which is part of the 774-page Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2009 (also known as the 2009 Highway Bill). It contains a section that would eventually ban wetlines (more specifically retained product piping) on any trailer hauling hazardous materials.

For new build tank trailers, the ban would take effect two years (probably 2012) after enactment of the bill. Additionally, no hazardous materials would be allowed in “external piping of any cargo tank motor vehicle [It is believed Congress specifically means new and used tank trailers] after December 31, 2020. The bill would allow a “minimal” amount of product to remain after the wetlines have been drained. The Secretary of Transportation would by regulation define “minimal.”

The good news in all of this is that retrofit of existing cargo tank trailers could be deferred until the December 31, 2020 final deadline — 11 years down the road. “This is actually very good news from a worker safety and economic standpoint,” says John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers. “I believe that demonstrating to the committee the danger posed to workers by a retrofit of the existing fleet did have some resonance.”

Another bit of good news is that most straight trucks appear to have been excluded. The draft bill does not address many combination vehicles — such as multi-axle trailers or truck-and-trailer combinations.

Economic impact

Still, this legislation will have a significant economic impact on the tank truck industry if it becomes law. After 2020, a cargo tank trailer, regardless of age (be it eight, 10, 20 years old) would have to be retrofitted with some kind of wetlines purging system or would be barred from hauling any type of hazardous material.

For petroleum haulers, it is important to note that diesel and heating oil are classified as hazardous materials, according to Conley. “No cargo tank trailer with wetlines could be used for any hazardous materials, not just flammables,” he says. “Downgrading a trailer with wetlines from gasoline to diesel or heating oil would not be an option without a retrofit. We will ask the T&I committee to amend this language to apply only to flammable materials.”

Industry estimates put the cost of a wetlines purging system on a new tank trailer at $5,000 to $7,000, depending on number of compartments. Retrofits could cost in the region of $8,000 to $10,000 per trailer, and that includes about $3,000 in labor, according to John O'Connell, Civacon.

“These are complex systems that will have to work in a very challenging environment,” he says. “Designing, developing, and testing systems to comply with the requirements will take at least a year. Development alone probably will cost each manufacturer $200,000 to $300,000. The systems will have to meet Hazardous Location Zone requirements, and certification will take about a year.”

More opposition

Conley says the legislation simply would be too expensive and would pose too much of a safety risk. He calls for continued opposition to the proposed legislation.

“I urge everyone in the tank truck industry to continue calling on members of Congress to refrain from banning wetlines in the HMTA reauthorization,” he says. “The revised amendment is better than the original concept of a ban on all wetlines perhaps in as little as one year after enactment. However, the amendment is still unacceptable and should not be viewed as a compromise. The bill is too costly, assumes that a workable system will be developed within two years of enactment, and simply defers the dangers of retrofit.

“The committee has taken an unsafe and unnecessary proposal and revised it to be simply an unnecessary amendment, at least until 2020. We are still looking at a retrofit, though certainly one with less overall impact.

“At the very least, we would like to see the amendment replaced with a revision requiring that the Secretary of Transportation report back to Congress within two years the results of a study to determine how a ban on wetlines on new equipment could be accomplished after a certain date and how such a regulation would be enforced. Such a study also could address how an eventual and phased ban on wetlines on the entire petroleum trailer fleet could be accomplished with the least safety impact on any workers performing a retrofit, least economic and operational impact on carriers, and least economic impact on trailer manufacturers.”

The revised amendment also needs further clarification to cover “flammable” materials only, not all hazardous materials. Conley says he believes flammable products were the only ones originally being addressed by the House committee. Clarification also will be needed to indicate how the wetlines ban would be enforced, how a roadside inspector would check for compliance, and whether a trailer with non-compliant wetlines would be considered out of service.

NTTC has worked with the American Trucking Associations and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America in opposing what some are calling an expensive and unnecessary solution to a problem that barely exists.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.