In a notice posted to the Federal Register on September 6, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is seeking comments from regulated motor carriers concerning their use of the existing COVID-19 emergency declaration and exemption, in an effort for the agency to determine whether it should continue to renew that declaration going forward.
The FMCSA first issued the declaration on March 13, 2020, offering a fairly broad exemption from various parts of the federal safety regulations to motor carriers and drivers providing "direct assistance" to the COVID-19 emergency relief efforts, including those transporting testing supplies and goods needed to replenish supplies, etc. The agency has subsequently renewed and refined the exemption several times.
The most recent iteration of the emergency declaration and exemption applies to the following transportation services: (1) livestock and livestock feed; (2) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19; (3) vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19; (4) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID- 19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants; (5) food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores; and (6) gasoline, diesel, diesel exhaust fluid, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol, and heating fuel including propane, natural gas, and heating oil. Direct assistance does not include non- emergency transportation of qualifying commodities or routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration. To be eligible for the exemption, the transportation must be both (1) of qualifying commodities and (2) incident to the immediate restoration of those essential supplies.
In its Sept. 6th notice, the FMCSA explains that "since September 2021, FMCSA has requested that motor carriers operating under the emergency declaration report certain information to the Agency. This information included the number of trips conducted under the declaration and the
commodities transported. Based on a review of the carriers’ self-reported information, the primary categories of commodities transported under the declaration are: food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distributions centers or stores; and livestock and livestock feed. Two categories which have seen the usage between October 2021 and July 2022 decrease by almost 50 percent are: medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19; and supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19."
Many have speculated the agency may choose not to renew the declaration beyond its current October 15th expiration date. That's even more apparent now with the FMCSA's recent publication, which asks the public to comment on the following:
The Agency seeks public comment on the usage of the emergency declaration for the covered products. Specifically, if the usage is fit for the intended purpose of the limited relief. Commenters are encouraged to share with the Agency the source of the data or information and provide recommendations on additional actions the Agency should consider in monitoring the use of the declaration. Further, any data or information the Agency should use in determining whether continued extension or modification of the declaration is needed. The Agency also seeks public comment on the safety and supply chain impacts of the emergency declaration.
Comments should be submitted by October 20th in Docket No. FMCSA-2022-0189. If you have any questions about the declaration or its impact to your operations, feel free to contact us.
About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a monthly live show on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who have assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.