The U.S. Department of Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule on August 15, 2016 modifying regulations governing trains hauling crude oil and other flammable materials. See 81 Fed. Reg. 53935.  These changes codifiy certain mandates and minimum requirements set forth in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act) (Pub. L. No. 114-94), enacted in December 2015.  The full text of the PHMSA rule is available here.

The rule mandates that all new tank cars (specifically, each tank car built to meet the DOT-117 specification, and each non-jacketed tank car retrofit to meet the DOT-117R specification) be equipped with a thermal, insulating protection blanket that has been approved by PHMSA pursuant to 49 C.F.R. 179.18(c).  New tank car requirements are expanded to all trains hauling flammable liquids, regardless of the length of the train.  Older tank cars retrofitted to the new design standard (the DOT-117R specification) must be equipped with certain minimum top fittings protections.

The rule also requires a faster phase-out of older model tank cars (specifically, DOT-111 specification tank cars, including DOT-111 tank cars constructed to the Casualty Prevention Circular (CPC) 1232 industry standard), used to transport unrefined petroleum products (e.g., petroleum crude oil), ethanol, and other Class 3 flammable liquids, irrespective of train composition.

The regulations were amended without advance notice or opportunity for public comment. PHMSA justified this decision on the basis that public notice was impracticable and that good cause existed to amend the regulations without advance notice and opportunity for public comment because the rule addresses congressional mandates that instruct PHMSA to issue conforming regulatory amendments immediately or soon after the FAST Act’s date of enactment (December 2015).  Thus, the rule became effective immediately upon its publication in the Federal Register on August 15, 2016.

If you have questions concerning this or other environmental issues, please contact Megan Caldwell.