There is a little-known U.S. Transportation Department agency that is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials, including by truck. Recently, it took another step to help improve compliance with federal hazmat regulations.

In March 2022, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that it would be converting historical letters of interpretation, sent to individual stakeholders, such as motor carriers, to explain hazardous materials regulations. The agency is turning these letters into the broadly applicable “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) common on many websites.

The first batch, released in late 2022, dealt with the applicability of hazardous materials regulations to specific persons and functions. PHMSA recently posted second set of FAQs and is seeking public feedback. This second set concerns the immediate notice of certain hazardous materials incidents and the completion of hazmat incident reports.

A sample of the 18 questions posed in this set of FAQs: Proposed answers are found in the PHMSA notice:

  • Who is responsible for completing and submitting a detailed hazardous materials incident report?
  • How long do I have to submit a written incident report?
  • What is an “undeclared hazardous material”?
  • Is an incident report required if a box, drum, or similar packaging is discovered to be leaking after the shipment is delivered to the consignee?
  • When an incident occurs involving a package of hazardous material containing only a residue of hazardous material, is an incident report required?

PHMSA notes that the FAQs are not the substantive rules themselves, meaning, the FAQs do not create legal responsibilities or legal rights, nor are they directly enforceable. But PHMSA says an individual demonstrating compliance with an FAQ is likely to be in compliance with the underlying regulation. A person choosing a course of action not supported by an FAQ must be able to show that its conduct still fits within the PHMSA regulations.

Comments on this second set of PHMSA FAQs are due by Sept. 18, 2023. This is not a formal rulemaking. Comments will not alter the regulations, however, they can help improve the understanding and compliance with hazardous materials regulations.

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