When it was announced recently that the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson had signed off on the Subchapter M rulemaking package and sent it on to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), I put in a call to the American Waterways Operators’ Jennifer A. Carpenter. Carpenter, the group’s executive vice president and COO, has carried the ball for AWO’s membership more than anyone else throughout the decade that the rulemaking process has spanned. Our conversation follows:
WorkBoat: We have spoken a number of times over the years about Subchapter M and knew that getting through Homeland Security was going to take some time. Now that’s it’s happened, what does that mean?
Jennifer Carpenter: This has been a long time coming. It’s a very safe bet the Final Rule will be published [in the Federal Register] sometime in June. The silver lining is that the industry has had a lot of time to get ready for this. We’ll have to see but I’m expecting that the industry has put this time to good use.
WorkBoat: AWO’s Responsible Carrier Program was a type of blue print that the Coast Guard was able to follow in the basic construction of 46 CFR Subchapter M. Talk a little about RCP’s role in this process.
Carpenter: The RCP has been a strong influence on safety and compliance. It’s really been a part of the evolution of the industry’s safety journey. We’ve worked with our shippers for 12 or 13 years on a way to improve safety. We’ve come so far but this ‘Uninspected Vessels’ tag dogs us in the media. We wanted that to change and we shouldn’t be afraid to be inspected because we’ve done so much to improve safety. The Coast Guard wants all the companies in the industry to have a safety management system, a better way to do inspections.
WorkBoat: How much of a catalyst for change that ultimately led to Subchapter M were deadly bridge allisions like the 1993 Bayou Canot disaster [near Mobile, Ala.]; the 2001 Queen Isabella Causeway Bridge collapse [near Brownsville, Texas]; and the 2002 Interstate 40 Bridge over the Arkansas River [near Webbers Falls, Okla.] accident?
Carpenter: Towing vessel inspection did not come about because of an accident. It’s a very positive thing, a cooperative and collaborative alliance between the Coast Guard and industry.
WorkBoat: Once the rule is in place and everyone is in compliance, can we rest easy?
Carpenter: It’s certainly a safety upgrade, but the rule is not the end. We will continue to look for ways to make the industry safer for everyone. That’s not going to stop.