The federal agency that regulates the transport of explosives, toxic chemicals, fireworks and other hazardous materials has for years quietly waived safety regulations because of its cozy relationship with industry, according to a congressional report.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates shipment of potentially dangerous cargo by land, sea and air, also has ignored whether shippers have been involved in accidents or cited for violating regulations before granting or renewing the waivers, the report said.
The report was based on an investigation by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on whether PHMSA is doing its job. The chief witness scheduled to testify at the hearing is Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel, who warned administration officials in late July that a separate investigation by his office had uncovered significant concerns.
The committee’s report called for “an immediate high-level policy review,” saying the agency had lost sight of its safety mission because of what appears to be an “inappropriately cozy” relationship with industry.
PHMSA is part of the Transportation Department.
Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said in a statement that the department is “taking action to get PHMSA back on track.”
“We realize that we have much work to do,” Porcari said.
Among the report’s findings:
- The agency issues special emergency waivers of regulations for shippers without any meaningful justification for the expedited action.
- Paperwork documenting the justification for waivers had been lost over the years but the waivers continue to be renewed.
- PHMSA often fails to advise other government agencies of its decisions to waive regulations. In particular, PHMSA officials appear to go out of their way to avoid informing the Federal Aviation Administration of waivers involving air cargo.
- PHMSA’s staff told investigators they consider the agency’s data “notoriously inaccurate, incomplete and virtually useless.” The report said, “We question how PHMSA can ensure safety is its highest priority if it cannot rely on its own data.”
- PHMSA staff told investigators the agency treats the companies it regulates like customers and is focused on keeping industry chiefs happy, rather than keeping the public safe.
- The agency’s senior managers have largely ignored documented safety concerns raised their own staff.
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