Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a two-part editorial on DOT’s wetline proposal.
Who is responsible for the spill if the inspection officer opens a wetline — the inspector for opening the line or the carrier for having liquid in the line? The legal answer is that it depends on many things and could go either way.
Growing up on the farm, we used to use diesel on the fence rows to kill the weeds. Today, that same action could result in removing all the dirt in that fence row due to the hazardous material — diesel. I have several clients that have paid tens of thousands of dollars to clean something as simple as a 25-gallon diesel spill when the driver was unable to prevent it flowing into the median ditch and hazmat control was called to the scene.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has suggested that sight gauges be installed in all wetlines to allow the inspector to determine if the line holds more than one liter of liquid. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) responded to the sight gauge suggestion by noting that sight gauges are not common to the industry, now, because they do not work. John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), stated: “NTTC contends both that the sight glass is an unreliable indicator and that PHMSA has again grossly underestimated the cost of compliance due to the administrator’s failure to include costs associated with installing sight glasses on each affected compartment.”
The Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA) said that the cost to retrofit a truck is as much as $8,000 and the annual cost to maintain the purging equipment is $400 per unit. The cost to replace a transport trailer can run as high as $100,000.
The DOT, interestingly enough, also admits in the current rulemaking that retrofitting existing trailers with wetline protection rails is all but impossible.
I thought I would contact some people who deal with the wetline issue on a daily basis and get their input. Dan Case, president of the Oklahoma Trucking Association, asked, “Why does the federal government want to cause a huge cost/benefit problem for carriers when the infrequency of wetline problems could not possibly justify the cost of the proposed solution?”
Al Heringer IV, vice president of Star Transportation, LLC, said: “We are opposed to this rule for the simple reason it does not solve the problem PHMSA wants to fix. Those that support a wetline mandate are understating cost and overstating benefits. Even if you consider the crazy cost to accomplish their purge or barrier solution, the result is just not there. In our experience, every incident that has involved a hazardous material spill has involved the tank along the belly lines. The driver empties the fuel from our belly lines after each delivery. The real danger in my opinion is the vapor, not the liquid, in the lines.”
Andy Walker, vice president of United Petroleum Transports, said: “We believe the proposed rule is overreaching and unnecessary. We have found no significant safety issue data to suggest the need for the proposed rule. The greater danger comes from the welding on tank trucks and we think the welding will cause more death and injury than ensuring dry wetlines on every truck in America. In fact, you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning then being injured in a crash with a wetline.”
I suggest PHMSA recall their proposed rule and seek a common-sense solution with a chance of working in the real world.
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.