By Russ and Tiña De Maris
In early February we brought out a “heads-up” notice to RVers who use “portable” LP cylinders. These are Department of Transportation-certified cylinders, commonly used on travel trailers, fifth wheels and truck campers. Motorhome LP tanks use a different certification method, and weren’t the owners we were reaching out to.
At that time we brought out that federal regulators had rewritten the rules regarding how often DOT cylinders needed to be brought in for an official “recertification” by an authorized facility. Previous to the new regulation, these containers would need to be inspected for the first time, 12 years after the date of their manufacture. Under the new regs, that standard was changed – the first inspection would be required at 10 years after manufacture.
An alert reader dropped a “Hold the phone!” on us. They said they’d been told by industry folk that the rule had been scuttled, we’re back to 12 years, and all’s right with the world. We said we’d check on it. We did. Now we have “new” news.
Seems that the new regulation set a burr under the saddle of the LP gas industry’s lobbying organization, the National Propane Gas Association. In early January the group sent a 20-some-odd page petition to the Department of Transportation, essentially telling DOT that the new regulations were giving the industry – well – gas pains.
Here’s a brief, but significant portion of the industry’s appeal. “[The] rules recently adopted by [DOT] will impose significant – and unnecessary – burdens on the propane industry. Granting [our] petition for a stay and proposed rulemaking will avoid substantial injury to the propane industry and the consumers they serve while retaining time-tested, safe standards. Therefore, the requested petition and emergency stay serves the public interest, and avoids the potential for substantial harm presented by the revisions made by [DOT].”
In early February, DOT responded to the industry, telling them, essentially, “We got your letter” and “Your request has not been assessed for merit. If accepted … as a petition for rulemaking, it will be considered for a future rulemaking action.” As we read the letter, it was your garden-variety “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” sort of response, with typical wait times that would grow cobwebs on a two-year-old child.
But without any public fanfare, DOT did act. We had to do a little prodding, but the agency sent us a copy of a two-page notice, dated March 17. Without ruling on the merits of the propane industry’s arguments, DOT says it “will not take enforcement action against a person who requalifies DOT cylinders using volumetric expansion testing pursuant to a 12-year requalification period. … We will allow the use of a 12- or 10-year requalification period for volumetric expansion testing until this notice is rescinded or otherwise modified.”
We tried to get a clarification from the feds on this; but, alas, as we’ve been told, it seems like everything in Washington is tied up in knots these days. We reached out to the National Propane Gas Association and, happily, did get a response. For RVers, here’s the most typical scenario, based on the DOT “rollback.” Under the agency’s current stand, new LP cylinders will now need to be requalified 12 years after date of manufacture. If they are visually inspected (as most RV cylinders are), then they will need to be requalified every five years after that.
If you went to the trouble and expense (and could find a certified tester willing to do it) you could have that cylinder tested by volumetric expansion (hydrostated), then the next requalification would not need to be done for 12 more years.
Mind you, all of this is subject to change at the whim of the Department of Transportation. The agency could decide to stick with a permanent rollback, making things the way they used to be, or they could determine to go ahead with the new ruling, changing the inspection times. Either way, we’ll do our best to keep you updated.