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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Remarks of Acting Administrator Tristan Brown Before the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council

September 29, 2021


PHMSA Mission/Goals and Introduction 

Fundamentally, PHMSA’s goal for the agency’s Hazardous Materials Safety program is to reduce the risks inherent to the commercial transportation of hazardous materials by all modes. 

Therefore, we’re focused on identifying and evaluating systemic risks and devising strategies to address those risks.

This takes in a variety of forms: from international work to harmonize across national boundaries and remove ineffectual and inefficient barriers to transport… to outreach efforts… partnerships and grant programs to help those who are most in need.

Before going any further, I want to say a few words about the President’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Infrastructure Bill

As you know, Congress is in the process of drafting and delivering an infrastructure package that will place substantial and much needed investments in America’s infrastructure.

The bill serves as an opportunity for PHMSA to receive increased funding to support some of its most important safety efforts. 

Most notably, the bill proposes to nearly double our Emergency Preparedness grants.

As written, the bill would increase PHMSA’s funding for this to $67 million.

The bill also places emphasis on the electrification of vehicles, which will, of course, increase the volume of products that are transported under PHMSA’s oversight—and will support this Administration’s whole-of-government approach to mitigating global climate change. 

International

On the international front, PHMSA is continuing its leadership in international regulatory forums. 

PHMSA utilizes these forums to advance safety across the world and to ensure environmental impacts are accounted for in international hazmat transportation.   

As part of PHMSA’s on-going international efforts, the agency recently published the “Harmonization with International Standards” rulemaking. 

We ask that you please take time to review the rulemaking and provide any comments by October 12, 2021.

In addition to being the lead voice in the United Nations and the lead U.S. voice at the International Civil Aviation Organization, PHMSA’s international program is involved with several efforts to advance hazmat safety in areas of the world where it previously hasn’t had a great deal of engagement.

PHMSA’s staff has recently worked through the State Department to advance Liquefied Natural Gas Safety in the Philippines.

PHMSA is also working with Sandia National Laboratories on advancing chemical transport safety and security in developing areas of the world.

Field Outreach and Engagement

The responsibility of much of our stakeholder interaction lies directly with PHMSA’s field staff rather than with headquarters’ staff.

This staff includes PHMSA’s Hazardous Materials Safety Assistance Team (HiMSAT) who act as community liaisons within their geographic region. They are a resource for hazmat stakeholders, industry and government partners, and the public. 

Moving forward, HMSAT (pronounced “him-sat”) will focus resources on underserved communities in high risk areas by acting as a conduit between federal and local agencies to ensure the community leaders know who to contact in the event of a hazmat emergency. 

The HMSAT team takes a data driven approach to ensure all communities are reached on a rotating basis.

Hazardous Materials Grants

Additionally, the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) grant program funds community planning efforts for states, tribes, and territories. 

Regional planning efforts include for example commodity flow studies to assess the type and quantity of hazmat flowing through communities. It also includes funding for regional and local planning exercises, and the updating of over 100 emergency response plans each year. 

U.S. Territories and Tribes tend to not have sufficient planning resources. These grantees are also disproportionately impacted by natural disasters. 

PHMSA approves extension requests to grantees who experience natural disasters because personnel responsible for hazmat planning and training activities are typically activated when these events occur. 

In rural communities, PHMSA strives to ensure that communities and volunteer fire departments are prepared to respond to hazmat incidents. 

Last year, the program updated its funding guidance to allow for overtime, backfill, and stipend expenses. The change now makes it easier for rural responders to get necessary training. 

PHMSA also makes community liaison personnel available to provide training in these areas.   

Grant program managers will also convene a working group with U.S. Territories and Tribes to assess how PHMSA can better support them and evaluate funding levels to ensure that sufficient funds are going to these underserved communities.

Partnerships

In closing, I want to emphasize how important partnerships with organizations like those in this virtual room are to PHMSA. 

We are a small agency tasked with overseeing the transportation of more than 1.2 million shipments of hazmat daily, transported among many diverse industries, as demonstrated by this group.  

We need and value your views and assistance as we tackle new challenges, including an ever-changing environment.  

We also recognize that without you and the companies you represent, we would not have the impressive safety record that the hazmat industry enjoys and the American public continues to benefit from.  

I thank you for all you do to ensure the safe transportation of hazardous materials. 
 

Last updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2021