Proposed rulemaking: Hazardous materials transportation

Comments solicited for DOT hazmat transport registration and fee program

   To meet Congressionally-authorized funding of $14.3 million for the HMEP grants program, in 2000, we expanded the base of registrants and adopted a two-tier fee schedule under which the registration fee was set at $275 for persons qualifying as small businesses under Small Business Administration (SBA) criteria, and $1,975 for other persons (plus a $25 processing fee in all cases). (69 FR 7297) Due to a surplus, in 2003, we temporarily adjusted the registration fee to $125 (plus a $25 processing fee) for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations and $275 (plus a $25 processing fee) for all other registrants. (68 FR 1342) In 2006, the fees increased to $250 (plus a $25 processing fee) for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations and $975 (plus a $25 processing fee) for all other registrants.

   Congress reauthorized the Federal hazardous materials transportation law (Federal hazmat law; 49 U.S.C. 5101 et seq.) in 2005 through the "Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety and Security Reauthorization Act of 2005" (Title VII of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Public Law 109-59, 119 Stat. 1144, August 10, 2005). The Act makes available approximately $28,000,000 for the HMEP grants program and lowers the maximum registration fee from $5,000 to $3,000. Consistent with SAFETEA-LU, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (Pub. L. 110-16) which sets an obligation limitation of $28,318,000 for expenses from the HMEP fund, the Administration's Fiscal Year 2008 budget requested and was granted $28,000,000 in support of HMEP activity.

   To ensure full funding of the HMEP grants program, PHMSA is proposing an increase in registration fees to fund the program at the $28.3 million level. This proposed fee increase will be in effect for the 2009-2010 registration year. We are proposing to delay the proposed fee increase until the 2009-2010 registration year to avoid accumulating a large surplus in the HMEP grants program account. For those registrants not qualifying as a small business or not-for-profit organization, we propose to increase the registration fee from $975 (plus a $25 administrative fee) to $2,475 (plus a $25 administrative fee) for registration year 2009-2010 and following years.

II. HMEP Grants Program

A. Purpose and Achievements of the HMEP Grants Program

   The HMEP grants program, as mandated by 49 U.S.C. 5116, provides Federal financial and technical assistance to States and Indian tribes to "develop, improve, and carry out emergency plans" within the National Response System and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986 (Title III), 42 U.S.C. 11001 et seq. The grants are used to develop, improve, and implement emergency plans; to train public sector hazardous materials emergency response employees to respond to accidents and incidents involving hazardous materials; to determine flow patterns of hazardous materials within a State and between States; and to determine the need within a State for regional hazardous materials emergency response teams.

   The HMEP grants program encourages the growth of the hazardous materials planning and training programs of State, local, and tribal governments by limiting the Federal funding to 80 percent of the cost a State or Indian tribe incurs to carry out the activity for which the grant is made. See 49 U.S.C. 5116(e). HMEP grants supplement the amount already being provided by the State or Indian tribe. By accepting an HMEP grant, the State or tribe makes a commitment to maintain its previous level of support. See 49 U.S.C. 5116(a)(2)(A) and 5116(b)(2)(A).

   Since 1993, PHMSA has awarded all States and territories and 45 Native American tribes planning and training grants totaling $125 million. These grants helped to:

    * Train 2,103,000 hazardous materials responders;

    * Conduct 8,617 commodity flow studies;

    * Write or update more than 50,983 emergency plans;

    * Conduct 11,773 emergency response exercises; and

    * Assist 22,288 local emergency planning committees (LEPCs).

   Since the beginning of the program, HMEP program funds have been used to support the following related activities in the total amounts indicated: