PRBA Urges PHMSA to Align U.S. Air Transport Rules for Lithium Batteries with Stricter International Standards

Dual Compliance Option “Inconsistent” with 2012 FAA Law

The Rechargeable Battery Association has filed comments with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reiterating that it “fully supports” a proposal that would harmonize U.S. rules for air shipment of lithium batteries with the more stringent international standards.

But PRBA questioned PHMSA’s plan to permit a dual system of regulation for the transport of lithium batteries, which would give carriers and shippers the option of complying with either existing PHMSA regulations or the International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions for domestic-only shipments.

“Dual standards create a cloud of confusion for everyone in the battery industry. Confusion limits compliance. And lack of compliance jeopardizes safety,” PRBA Executive Director George Kerchner said. “PRBA members favor a simplified yet rigorous regulatory regime that will advance air safety,” he added.

PRBA also submitted comments as part of a 23-member trade association coalition that includes manufacturers of batteries, consumer electronics and medical devices as well as air freight companies and retailers. PRBA and the coalition were responding to PHMSA’s Jan. 7, 2013 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. PHMSA requested comments addressing the “unintended consequences” of letting shippers choose their method of compliance for domestic battery shipments instead of issuing a final rule harmonizing the U.S. regulations with the tougher international requirements.

PRBA’s filing called for a single standard as the best approach, noting that PHMSA’s plan to allow a choice of compliance efforts “would not be consistent with the intent” of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Not only was harmonization mandated by Congress, PRBA said, “but it also will enhance safety by simplifying training for employers, make it easier for haz mat employees to understand how to package and ship lithium batteries and minimize costs and other burdens associated with complying with inconsistent regulations.”

PRBA also listed several “unintended consequences” if PHMSA allows shippers and carriers to operate under the weaker U.S. regulatory system. First, pilots may not be notified of large shipments of small, excepted lithium batteries on their aircraft and carriers may not be able to implement workable acceptance checklists. Concerns about the pilot notification and carrier implementation of the checklist provisions motivated ICAO to adopt the more stringent lithium battery regulations in February 2012, PRBA’s filing said.

Second, the ICAO Technical Instructions require employee training regardless of battery size, but the U.S. rules do not. Third, PHMSA may find it difficult to bring enforcement cases against shippers complying with U.S regulations but not the ICAO standards. “This situation may prevent PHMSA (and FAA) from taking aggressive enforcement actions against non-compliant shippers of lithium batteries,” PRBA said.