The federal agency that regulates transportation of hazardous materials is too 'cozy' with shippers and often fails to provide adequate oversight to protect the public, a congressional investigation finds.
HAZARDOUS SPILLS: Unreported incidents
The concerns are outlined in a staff memo for the House Transportation Committee ahead of a hearing today on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The investigation by committee staff 'strongly suggests that (the safety administration's) performance of its primary safety mission is less than diligent in far too many instances, appears to be inappropriately 'cozy' with industry, and demands an immediate, high-level policy review,' the memo says.
Committee investigators started their work this year after the Transportation Department's inspector general criticized aspects of the safety administration's performance, says the memo, obtained by USA TODAY. The inspector general raised concerns about the safety administration's failure to make sure that hazmat shippers have good safety records before giving them special permits to carry especially dangerous mixes of explosives and corrosive materials.
Transportation officials say the department, which oversees the safety agency, has a plan to fix the problems raised by the committee and the inspector general concerning how permits are issued and data collected.
'We realize that we have much work to do,' Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari said, noting that he and Secretary Ray LaHood, who took over in January, 'are taking action to get (the safety administration) back on track.'
Many of the Transportation Committee's findings amplify the inspector general's concerns on the special permits. Among other things, the committee's memo notes that the safety administration issued special permits allowing air carriers to ship explosives on passenger planes without proper consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The committee also criticized the safety administration for ignoring its enforcement staff.
The agency 'has taken little action to resolve documented safety concerns raised by (its) own office of … enforcement,' the memo says.
Safety officials also fail to keep accurate data on hazmat spills, the memo says. USA TODAY reported Wednesday that nearly half of all 'serious' hazmat incidents are not reported by carriers, as required, which leaves the agency investigators without information to identify accident-prone carriers, faulty containers and other safety risks.
The agency 'could not identify any major steps that were taken to address the extent of the under-reporting,' the memo says.