Faced with stiff industry opposition, Rep James Oberstar D-MN and his staffers on the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee delayed the wetlines legislation markup that was set for Nov 5. This is just a temporary delay for House bill HR4016, which would ban wetlines on all tank trailers that handle hazardous materials.
Oberstar apparently did not appreciate the strong industry opposition and the impact it had on other Democrat congressmen on the committee. Even as he announced the delay to give committee members more time to study the legislation, Oberstar scolded the industry for waiting so long to raise issues with the bill. He seems to have forgotten that the tank truck industry has been pointing out problems with the legislation all fall.
Calls and emails, especially to Democrat members, definitely were part of the reason for the delay, according to John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers. “We must keep that effort going,” he said. “NTTC will remain involved with this issue, and we urge the tank truck industry to keep up the pressure on Congress. This is no time to let up.”
Clearly, Oberstar does not like “no” as an answer, especially when it comes from members of his own party. Democrat Congressmen are under intense pressure to drop their opposition and get on board with the program. That arm twisting will continue even though Oberstar agreed to a field hearing in Baltimore MD on Nov 16.
The field hearing will include a trip to Baltimore Cargo Tank Services, a tank repair shop and NTTC associate member. Following that visit will be a 1:00 pm public hearing on HR4016 at the University of Maryland—Baltimore campus. The meeting will be in Davidge Hall at 522 W Lombard St.
A new markup session for the wetlines bill could come as early as Nov 19. The wetlines ban on all tank trailers that handle hazardous materials is among the amendments being considered for the Hazardous Materials Safe Transportation Act of 2009. Oberstar seems determined to shove the Hazmat Transportation legislation through Congress before the end of this year.
As it stands now, the amendment would ban retained-product piping (wetlines) on tank trailers used to transport any type of hazardous material, but wetlines would still be perfectly legal on tank trucks (a factor that makes no sense if wetlines pose such a risk that immediate Congressional action is needed). In addition, the wetlines ban still would apply to both new and used tank trailers. Who knows how many tank repair shop workers will die as a result of this ill-conceived retrofit requirement, but every single needless death will fall on the shoulders of those Congressmen who vote for this legislation.
Even the International Brotherhood of Teamsters briefly joined NTTC, Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, and other groups in opposing the Oberstar’s legislation. In a letter to Congress, The Teamsters questioned the high cost of a retrofit requirement, both in dollars and worker safety. The Teamsters’ letter suggested that advocates of the wetlines ban, such as the National Transportation Safety Board, have relied on faulty reports and inconsistent studies to support their position on this issue. The Teamsters announced a very sudden about-face on Nov 3.