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Proposed wetlines purging rule would deliver another kick to solar plexus (Part I)

Who in the world thought that purging wetlines on tankers would cause so much consternation and angst among both sides of trucking and enforcement? (The Trucker file photo)

By JIM KLEPPER
The Trucker News Services

6/21/2011

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on a proposed rule on wetline purging that has the industry up in arms.

Clump, clump, clump— the sounds of the Government jack boots make as they march toward trucking intending to make things better for everyone.  Whoosh — the sound of air rushing out of common sense as the jack boots deliver a kick to the stomach.

Who in the world thought that purging wetlines on tankers would cause so much consternation and angst among both sides of trucking and enforcement?

Stephen Keppler, head of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA,) said a wetline purging rule requiring flammable liquids be purged from tank truck wetlines during transport is “for practical purposes unenforceable in the field.”  It appears he agrees with just about everyone else, including common sense, that the regulators do not have a clue about real life on the road.

A little background first.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Jan. 27 proposed “to amend the Hazardous Materials Regulations to prohibit the transportation of flammable liquids in unprotected external product piping on DOT specification cargo tank motor vehicles.  If adopted as proposed, these amendments will reduce fatalities and injuries that result from an accident during transportation involving the release of flammable liquid from unprotected external product piping.”

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What PHMSA is wanting is for every wetline to be safe between every delivery of flammable liquids that is transported every day.  Who could oppose such a rule?  PHMSA proposes to accomplish this by requiring carriers that haul flammable liquids to have either a bumper-like protection for the wetline or a system that would purge the flammable liquid from the wetline.  Sounds like everyone should want that protection in case of an accident involving the wetlines.  The problem, according to CVSA’s Keppler, is that “as the notice of proposed rulemaking currently reads, it will be very difficult to enforce at roadside.”  He further added that “In order for any rule to be effective, it needs to be enforceable.”

The current hazardous materials training for CVSA roadside inspectors states that they “shall not open any valve, manhole, pipe cap or other feature that could result in the release of a hazardous material or potentially expose an inspector to hazardous material.”  The proposed rule could be in conflict with the current common-sense approach and expose the environment and inspectors to flammable material and their gases. Containing the hazardous materials for transport has been trucking’s goal from day one.  Inspectors are not currently trained to handle hazardous material spills and releases in the field. 

Can you imagine the liability from DOT or EPA from the spills across the country caused by inspections in the field? That doesn’t include the local government who will want the area cleaned and replaced to its natural state.

Next: more details on the rule’s workability or lack thereof.

Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers.  Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the 48 states on both moving and nonmoving violations. He is also president of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at discounted rates.  A former prosecutor, he is a lawyer who has focused on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking and life over-the-road and has his Commercial Drivers License. 

For more information call (800) 333-DRIVE (3748) or go to www.interstatetrucker.com and www.driverslegalplan.com.