Federal agencies have recently initiated several hazmat rules that have industry leaders scratching their heads wondering if the initiatives are relevant and offer the nation more security.

In late June, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that carriers hauling toxic inhalants, LNG, some explosives and radioactive materials in either interstate or intrastate commerce must obtain a federal permit by January 1, 2005. Carriers must have a satisfactory safety rating, be registered with RSPA and have a satisfactory security program in place. They also must have a way of communicating with drivers. Cellphones are acceptable. A written route plan will be required for explosives and radioactive hauling. For more details, see the Federal Register, June 30, Docket No.FMCSA -97-2180 (www.access.gpo.gov/fr/index).

To many in the industry, the move just adds more administrative burdens without offering more security. Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, says the new ruling applies to less than 10% of his membership, but, nonetheless, adds an unnecessary burden to others and was motivated by legal requirements instead of safety considerations. The rule was issued in part to satisfy a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen and other groups who contended that FMCSA was way behind in issuing rules — some more than a decade overdue — including hours of service, entry-level driver training, longer combination vehicle driver training, and the safety performance history of new drivers. This latest ruling completes FMCSA's legal obligations, according to agency officials.

The other hazmat initiative was performed by the Transportation Security Administration and involved a name- base crosscheck of 2.7-million hazmat endorsed CDL drivers that turned up 29 “people of interest,” according to TSA spokesperson Andrea Fuentes.

“These 29 people are being vetted by other agencies,” she said. (One person previously had been expelled from the country.) Fuentes did not know which name base the names were checked against, but said that some of the hits may have been duplications because of slightly altered spellings or differences in middle initials.

“If they checked 2.7-million names and only 29 were kicked out, then either their name database is useless or they're wasting their time,” says one Congressional staffer critical of TSA's actions. “Perhaps they need to spend their money looking elsewhere for terrorists,” he said.

Indeed, TSA is ratcheting up its efforts to eliminate hazmat drivers based not only on possible links to terrorist groups but other criteria as well. TSA will take the list of 2.7-million CDL drivers and compare it to other databases, including those who have been convicted of some felonies within the last seven years, including treason, sedition, robbery, sexual abuse, arson, and unlawful possession of a firearm or controlled substance.

Although the background check is supposed to root out possible terrorists, the criteria based on sale or abuse of a controlled substance or robbery has some in the industry baffled. “I don't see what some of the criteria have to do with national security,” says Timothy Lynch, president of the Motor Freight Carriers Assn. Harvison agrees: “A carrier might want to weed these people out, but they don't necessarily pose a terrorist risk.”

Indeed, a hazmat driver could lose his endorsement if he has committed a non-terrorist related felony and paid his debt to society or committed another ambiguous infraction that is listed in the ruling. These include “improper transportation of a hazardous material,” and “dishonesty, fraud or misrepresentation, including identity fraud,” and a “crime involving a severe transportation security incident.” There is an appeals process.

To help find offending drivers, TSA will continue to check the CDL roster against other lists, but Fuentes would not say which ones or which agencies will supply the lists. “We also are getting ready to fingerprint by January 1,” she noted. By that date, all current hazmat drivers who have been cleared through list-checking will offer their fingerprints upon renewal. Because endorsements can last up to five years in some states, the process could take until 2008.