By Ilana R. Morady and Eric E. Boyd

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently released a five-year Strategic Plan that sets targets to improve the safe handling and transportation of hazardous materials.  PHMSA is the principle arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that promulgates and enforces regulations pertaining to the movement of hazmat by all modes of transportation, including pipelines. By 2016, the agency aims to reduce the number of pipeline incidents involving death or major injury to between 26-37 per year, and the number of other hazmat incidents involving death or major injury to between 21-32 per year.  The Strategic Plan notes that hazardous materials transportation (all modes, including pipelines) accounts for an average of 28 deaths per year.  Oddly, that number fits squarely within the agency’s new goals for 2012-2016.  The Strategic Plan also sets environmental goals for 2012-2016: to reduce the number of hazardous liquid pipeline spills with environmental consequences to between 65-81 per year, and to reduce the number of other hazmat incidents with environmental damage to between 44-64 per year.  The Strategic Plan does not, however, state the per-year number of environmental hazmat incidents in past years. 

Overall, the Strategic Plan is long on words but short on information and explanation.  For example, it also provides “key challenges” the agency expects to face, but addresses these challenges vaguely.  One key challenge is “advances in technology,” which PHMSA apparently intends to address by “systematically identify[ing] and evaluat[ing] trends” in technology development.  The agency does, however, offer a couple relatively specific challenges on which it will focus in 2012-2016: hazmat that presents a risk of fire aboard aircraft and bulk transportation of hazmat that is toxic by inhalation.  To address these challenges, the agency’s strategy includes developing standards for loading and unloading bulk hazardous materials, and publishing new safety rules for transporting flammable and combustible liquids aboard aircraft.  PHMSA also states its intention to strengthen current rules for transporting lithium batteries by air.

For more information about PHMSA’s hazmat program and agency enforcement, click here.