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Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, on Hazardous Materials “Toxic” Amendment

July 8, 1998

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen,
on Hazardous Materials “Toxic” Amendment

Good morning. My name is Joan Claybrook, and I am President of the national consumer advocacy group Public Citizen founded by Ralph Nader 27 years ago. We are here to warn the public about a special interest provision being pushed by the agricultural retailers which will undercut vital safeguards in transporting hazardous materials. The public has a right to know when they are sharing the road with rolling firebombs.

This industry has turned to its friends in Congress to help it evade Department of Transportation public disclosure safety standards on transporting highly dangerous chemicals. Agricultural retailers are trying to sneak a provision into the FY 1999 DOT Appropriations Bill to grant them a special exemption from complying with basic safeguards of placarding and labeling hazardous materials that protect our families and our firefighters.

Why are they turning to Congress? Because the DOT, after years of study and public hearings, rejected their special interest plea and declared their position was unfounded, unsupported and unsafe. Yet the Congress has heard no testimony from the industry or from highway users or from firefighters.

When agricultural retailers petitioned the DOT for special treatment, citing the high cost of meeting the safety standards, their phony claims were immediately exposed: the DOT revealed that five interstate carriers on the petition have combined gross sales of $11 billion a year, and combined annual profits of over $1 billion.

These companies would rather spend thousands of dollars lobbying members of Congress to create a loophole for them to avoid paying a paltry $2.75 per load to meet the minimal safety standard requiring placarding, labeling, shipping papers and an emergency number.

The industry has already been given special favors – DOT gave these companies an extra year to meet hazmat requirements. What did they do in that year? Educate their members about the safety requirements? No — they spent the year trying to delay and roll back the safety regulations that are already in place in the vast majority of states.

Even other sectors of the transportation industry involved in transporting dangerous materials are opposed to a special exemption for agricultural companies. The American Trucking Associations, Inc., the Association of Waste Hazardous Materials Transporters and the National Tank Truck Carriers Inc. all recognize the benefit of uniform DOT safety standards for intrastate and interstate movement of hazardous materials. And all but eight states have already adopted the DOT standards.

The conferees on the TEA-21 bill said no to this special interest favor. It was a dangerous provision when they dropped it three weeks ago and it?s a dangerous provision today. We urge Congress not to put this toxic amendment on any legislation.