Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA)

  • Date: April 27, 2011
  • Source: Admin
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Why the government brought in the legislation?
In the 1970s, many landfills throughout the United States began to refuse to accept hazardous materials. To make matters worse, cheaper disposal alternatives were not available. As a result, illegal dumping became common. In addition, enforcement of antidumping laws was lax. In the circumstances, Congress passed the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) (P.L. 93-633, 88 Stat. 2156) in 1975.
What is a hazardous material?
A hazardous material, as defined by the Secretary of Transportation, is any “particular quantity or form” of a material that “may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property.”
Hazardous materials regulations
Hazardous materials regulations are subdivided by function into four basic areas, as follows:
  •  Procedures and/or Policies
  •  Material Designations
  • Packaging Requirements
  • Operational Rules
The HMTA sets extensive guidelines for carriers of hazardous materials. Carriers must classify, package, and label materials appropriately, use specific hazardous material placards for shipments, and produce the relevant shipping papers at all times. They must follow the rules of the Department of Transportation (DOT), maintain rapid response plans for emergencies, undergo safety training programs, and comply with packaging standards.
Enforcement Authorities
The HMTA confers enforcement authority on the DOT. Under delegated authority from the secretary of the DOT, the:
  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) enforces motor carrier regulations
  • Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) enforces rail carrier regulations
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces air carrier regulations
  • U.S. Coast Guard enforces maritime shipping regulations.
Adequate hazardous waste regulation authority is given to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. It requires the EPA to set guidelines for the management of hazardous and nonhazardous waste in an environment-friendly manner.
Even with these guidelines addressing hazardous material transportation around, confusion about federal, state, and local hazardous material regulations arose. Hence, in 1990, the Congress passed the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA). This Act cleared the confusion by encouraging uniformity throughout the levels of government concerning guidelines for hazardous material transportation. Also, states were advised to designate certain highways and roads that are acceptable for transportation of hazardous materials.
Radioactive Materials
Several agencies have overlapping authorities for regulating shipments of radioactive materials. DOT regulates the shipment of hazardous materials, including radioactive materials. The National Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates commercial activities of nuclear power plants. The Department of Energy (DOE) ships commercial radioactive waste for storage. It also ships defense nuclear waste and weapons for storage or use. DOE and EPA share the responsibility for transportation of hazardous wastes or radioactive and hazardous waste mixtures generated at facilities operated by DOE under the authority of the Atomic Energy Agency (AEA).
Law Enforcement
The HMTA is enforced by use of:
  • compliance orders,
  • civil penalties, and
  • injunctive relief.
The HMTA preempts state and local governmental requirements that are inconsistent with the statute, unless that requirement affords an equal or greater level of protection to the public than the HMTA requirement.
The DOT's Office of Hazardous Materials Safety has published the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations, which is a complete guide to hazardous material guidelines and interpretations. Knowingly violating these guidelines would make carriers liable to a range of penalties. Violations result in fines in amounts from USD 250 to USD 25,000. If violations occur over numerous days, each day is subject to a separate fine. Also, one who tampers with or defaces a hazardous material label, container, truck, placard, or other object is guilty of a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. Many fines and prison sentences have been assessed for violations of the HMTA.
Case Study
In one particular case, a man had packed fireworks in his luggage for a flight to San Francisco on the weekend of July 4, 1994. Airline employees came upon the items in the bag and alerted FAA officials, who levied a USD 1,250 fine on the individual. The man appealed the fine, but it was affirmed since he had knowingly acted in violation of the HMTA. Prosecutions of violations are prompt following the rise of terrorist threats to the United States, emphasizing the importance of strict enforcement of the HMTA.


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