Focus on the big picture

Feb. 1, 2004
NEW hours-of-service rules grabbed most of the headlines as 2004 opened. The process of interpreting and implementing those rules continues to draw a

NEW hours-of-service rules grabbed most of the headlines as 2004 opened. The process of interpreting and implementing those rules continues to draw a lot of attention.

With all the hours-of-service (HOS) buzz, other regulatory activity seems to have been pushed into the background. That's unfortunate because some of these other regulations could have a far more profound impact on the industry, particularly on tank truck carriers.

It's not known when the announcement will come, but the Environmental Protection Agency reportedly has a nationwide chemical vapor recovery requirement ready for publication. The announcement could come any day.

The rules will require vapor recovery equipment on virtually all MC307 and DOT407 cargo tanks. Many chemical loading racks and receiving areas will have to be modified for vapor recovery, and the industry could see a renewed push toward fully closed-loop loading and unloading systems.

Mandatory background investigations of drivers who haul hazardous materials will move another step closer to reality in April when states are required to submit implementation plans to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The plans, which were called for under the USA Patriot Act, are to be operational no later than December.

The background investigations, which will be performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are just one aspect of a growing preoccupation about the security of hazardous materials shipments. Using the fight against terrorism as justification, officials from all levels of government are advocating some extreme and costly measures.

One example of the extreme is a proposal by the Washington DC city council that would prohibit virtually all hazmat shipments through the city. The city ordinance is entitled “Terrorism Prevention and Safety in Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 2003.” Regulations of this sort could create more risk than they would prevent.

Officials at DOT remain obsessed with technology-based tools to combat perceived terrorist threats. The Research and Special Programs Administration continues to push for satellite-based communications and tracking on tractor-trailer rigs hauling hazardous materials. These systems could cost upwards of $2,500 per vehicle without any absolute guarantee that they would effectively prevent an act of terrorism.

Electronic seals are among the security technologies being researched by consortiums under contract to the federal government. Currently, most of the electronic seal discussion focuses on intermodal containers, particularly those carrying hazardous materials or other sensitive cargoes.

International shipments are receiving significantly more security scrutiny. New requirements for electronic prenotification from cargoes coming into the United States took effect January 5 — about the same time as the HOS rule changes. Shipments under the new Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program call for notification at least 30 minutes before a truck reaches the US border coming from Canada or Mexico. An hour's prenotification is necessary for non-FAST shipments.

FAST involves registration of shippers, carriers, and drivers involved in moving cargoes from Canada and Mexico. It is as big a change as the new HOS rules, and companies are still in the very early stages of adapting to the rule.

These are just a sampling of new and potential regulations hanging over the tank truck industry. By all indications, 2004 will be a busy year for regulators and fleets. Tank truck carriers simply can't afford the risk of focusing on one new regulation to the exclusion of others. They need to know what is going on at all levels.

One of the best ways to stay informed is to be an active member of an industry group such as National Tank Truck Carriers. NTTC and other associations put a tremendous effort into researching the regulations that will affect the industry. The value of that research can easily exceed the cost of membership.