Fifteen trade associations filed suit in federal district court on July 1 to compel the Department of Transportation to reduce the fee collected as part of the annual hazardous materials registration program. Overseen by the Research and Special Programs Administration, the fee is imposed on companies that transport or are involved in the transportation of hazardous materials. A court date has not been set.
The registration program has been in place since 1992, and the fees are used to support hazardous materials emergency response planning, training, and related activities by states, local governments, and Indian tribes. The annual fee currently stands at $275 for small businesses and $1,975 for larger companies.
Congress has legislated in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act that the money collected can only be used for the stated purpose of hazmat planning and training. By law, expenditures from the program currently cannot exceed $14.3 million per fiscal year.
The lawsuit filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia contends that DOT is in violation of the law and is required to adjust the fee level to reflect the unexpended balance in the fund. The excess fees have grown significantly, amounting to $18.2 million at the end of fiscal year 2001. The unexpended balance should reach approximately $26 million by the end of fiscal year 2002.
For the past three fiscal years, DOT has tried to claim the unexpended balance to fund a portion of its hazardous materials safety program. Congress has turned down each of those requests, saying that is not the purpose of the money collected through the registration program.
The trade associations participating in the lawsuit include the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council, American Chemistry Council, American Trucking Associations, The Chlorine Institute, Compressed Gas Association, The Conference on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles, The Fertilizer Institute, Institute of Makers of Explosives, International Warehouse Logistics Association, National Paint and Coatings Association, National Propane Gas Association, National Tank Truck Carriers, Petroleum Marketers Association of America, Radiopharmaceutical Shippers and Carriers Conference, and Reusable Industrial Packaging Association.