U.S. Congress Protects Public Against Hazardous Waste in Transit Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975 regulated commerce by improving the protection afforded the public against risks connected with the transportation of hazardous materials by air, sea, rail, and road.


The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act is considered the grandfather of modern hazardous materials regulation. The act consolidated several earlier, fragmented regulations, and it authorized Department of Transportation officials to define a “hazardous material.” This regulatory basis constituted the foundation of many future regulations and was referenced in several subsequent statutes. Transportation Safety Act (1974) Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975)

The law, however, has resulted in state and local governments creating a huge regulatory environment that requires licensing, registration, permits, routing, and emergency-response programs and organizations. Many of these regulations are inconsistent with the spirit of the act and vary from state to state, and the lack of uniformity in state laws has contributed to an insurance crisis. Transportation frequently involves multiple jurisdictions, making insurance for movement of hazardous materials sometimes impossible to obtain.

The empowerment of the Department of Transportation to enforce its own regulations through civil and criminal penalties was a major provision of the act. Rather than have infraction citations adjudicated and engage in lengthy and costly criminal litigation, however, the department in practice usually elects to mete out civil penalties.

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act produced a new regulatory climate. It created vast new federal, state, and local infrastructures and industries and helped to bridge the gap to international intermodal shipments. Its effect on environmental protection, moreover, can only be estimated. Safety is difficult to quantify, and cost-benefit analyses seem inappropriate in regard to human life or ecological disaster. Clearly, however, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act in many ways improved public and environmental well-being in a growing chemical-industrial society. Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975) Hazardous waste;legislation Waste;management

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bierlein, Lawrence. Red Book on Transportation of Hazardous Materials. 2d ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988. Excellent reference for students and a definitive source for businesses subject to hazardous materials regulation. Covers most segments of these complex regulations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keller, J. J., and Associates. Hazardous Materials Guide: Shipping, Materials Handling, and Transportation. Neenah, Wis.: J. J. Keller, 1980. Contains the specific regulations governing classifying, packaging, labeling, placarding, documenting, and reporting that were promulgated by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. Also included is a succinct history of hazardous-materials regulations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, William F., John M. Lippitt, and Paul J. Webb. Hazardous Waste Handbook. 3d ed. Burlington, Mass.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000. Straightforward and comprehensive manual designed to help supervisors and inspectors find information quickly.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Transportation Safety.” Congressional Quarterly Almanac 30 (1975): 698-703. Editorial about congressional lawmaking substantially criticizes transportation shortcomings within the Nixon administration. Follows the evolution of the HMTA through the Senate and House.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">University of Texas at Austin. Policy Research Project on Highway Safety. Hazardous Materials Transportation in Texas. Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Policy Research Project Report 82. Austin, Tex.: The Project, 1987. Two chapters of this study deal specifically with hazardous-materials transportation problems in Texas. Extremely useful for understanding the chronology of federal and state regulations. Emphasizes the role state and local governments have assumed in dealing with local transportation problems and how these efforts have coordinated with federal regulatory imperatives. Includes bibliographic references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Transportation of Hazardous Materials. OTA-SET-304. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986. Provides a good overview of the impact of hazardous materials transportation regulation on domestic commerce and public safety from the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975 to 1986. Study data and statistics are presented and interspersed with the study panel’s critical analysis of regulatory shortcomings and regulatory inconsistencies among federal, state, and local agencies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Transportation of Hazardous Materials: State and Local Activities. OTA-SET-301. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986. Follow-up to the federal transportation study cited above quantifies the tremendous growth of state and local infrastructure and activity spawned by the act of 1975 and the emerging role of the federal government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wagner, Travis. The Hazardous Waste Q&A: An In-Depth Guide to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990. Bases questions on thousands of inquiries received by the EPA and the author’s own experience consulting on hazardous wastes for the private sector.

“Cradle-to-Grave” Legislation Covers Hazardous Wastes

Toxic Waste Is Discovered at Love Canal

Superfund Is Established to Pay for Hazardous-Waste Cleanup

U.S. Congress Addresses “Low-Level” Nuclear Waste

Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste Is Founded

U.S. Congress Addresses “High-Level” Nuclear Waste

Yucca Mountain Is Designated a Radioactive Waste Repository

Categories: History