Truckers Complain over Hazmat Background and Fingerprinting Program

WASHINGTON (AP) - Truckers complained to Congress on Tuesday that requirements for hauling hazardous waste are doing more to harm them than to protect citizens from terrorists.

A portion of the anti-terror Patriot Act passed in October 2001 requires background checks and fingerprints of haulers of hazardous materials.

But truckers and trucking company representatives said the definition of hazardous materials is too broad, encompassing even drivers who carry such non-threatening substances as paint, nail polish and soft drink syrup.

Drivers must spend $94 to $134 for the checks and some must drive hundreds of miles from their homes or terminals to the fingerprint location, said Michael Laizure, a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Other complaints: Canadian and Mexican truck drivers aren't required to have background checks, and the crimes that disqualify truck drivers from carrying hazardous materials - writing a bad check, for example - are too broad.

"What good does it do to check the backgrounds of U.S. citizens who have held a commercial driver's license for more than 10 or 20 years?" Laizure asked during testimony before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on economic security.

Stephen Russell, a trucking company owner who represented the American Trucking Associations at the hearing, said there are 2.7 million truck drivers credentialed to carry hazardous materials.

But he said fewer drivers are getting their hazardous material credentials now because of the requirements, causing hardships for companies.

"Several carriers expect to be out of the business of hauling hazmat altogether," Russell said.

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee, said the government is casting too wide a net in scrutinizing millions of truck drivers.

"If we're going for everybody, we're not going to find who we're looking for," Lungren said.

Under the program, drivers are fingerprinted and put through FBI criminal background checks when they renew or apply for credentials allowing them to haul hazardous materials. Their names also are cross-referenced with federal databases related to terrorist activity.

Justin Oberman, who heads the Transportation Security Administration's credentialing office, told the committee that 130,000 truckers have been checked since the fingerprint requirement took effect May 31. Of those, 672 were denied their credential, or fewer than 1 percent. Oberman said some were granted waivers through an appeals process.

Oberman said the TSA is concerned about the distance drivers must go and is working to expand the number of fingerprint locations. He said the agency is working with the Canadian and Mexican governments to develop background check programs. And, he said, the TSA is open to narrowing the scope of the requirements.

"We are working to address each of them in turn," Oberman said.

(c) 2005 Associated Press