Hazmat Registration Fee Could Triple

Nearly 7,000 companies that qualify as large, for-profit haulers or shippers of hazardous materials would see their federal annual registration fee triple, to $3,000 under a plan designed to shore up a hazmat training grants program.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed the fee increase through a Feb. 2 notice in the Federal Register, and told industry participants they have one month to submit comments. The plan would take effect as of the registration year that begins July 1, and allows PHMSA to re-bill firms that have already pre-paid their registrations.

Those affected could be large manufacturers of hazmat shipments, as well as large firms that would carry them by highway, rail, barge, ship or even air.

The agency says those fee hikes are needed to fund a $28 million annual program that awards grants to train hazmat first responders throughout states, territories and 45 Native American tribes. The grants also pay for development and updating of emergency plans, event-simulation drills that test responses, and the updating and distribution of guidebooks.

But after handing out grants of more than $200 million since 1993, PHMSA said its grant pool is down to just a $1.5 million surplus and needs a substantial boost.

In all, PHMSA said it gets about 41,000 registrations a year from those who either transport certain hazmats that are subject to the fee or offer them up for transport. But it figures 83 percent or 34,025 are small businesses or not-for-profit organizations that pay a low fee of $250 plus $25 for processing. That nets about $8.5 million for the grant program.

Large firms, however, already pay $1,000 a year — $975 for the actual registration plus that $25 handling charge — and PHMSA would tack on another $2,000 for each of those 6,975 applicants. Their new fee level would generate over $20 million, compared with less than $5 million now.

Applicants can register and pay in advance for up to three years at a time, and about 2,100 in the large-firm target group have already done so. While PHMSA would go back to them for the fee increases, the agency points out that it also paid refunds totaling $2.3 million after it lowered fees in 2003.

- John D. Boyd, The Journal of Commerce.