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PHMSA's Process for Granting Special Permits and Approvals for Transporting Hazardous Materials Raises Safety Concerns

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On September 10, 2009, the Inspector General testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Special Permits and Approvals Program. The Inspector General highlighted concerns with how PHMSA authorizes transport of hazardous materials under these regulatory exemptions across three areas: (1) PHMSA grants special permits and approvals without assessing applicants’ prior incidents and enforcement violations or coordinating with other affected Operating Administrations. (2) PHMSA’s risk–based oversight criteria do not target holders of special permits and approvals for compliance reviews. (3) PHMSA has not addressed longstanding safety issues raised by the OIG, FAA, and the NTSB. The Inspector General stated that these issues call into question the effectiveness of PHMSA’s process for granting special permits and approvals. PHMSA recently developed an action plan to address these and other issues in response to the OIG’s July 2009 management advisory and Departmental direction.