During energy emergencies, federal waivers and other regulatory relief can be used to expedite restoration of affected energy systems. Temporarily halting enforcement of certain safety, environmental, and statutory requirements can accelerate response efforts, power restoration, and fuel access in affected regions.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has compiled information on the key types of emergency regulatory relief available for energy response and recovery efforts as well as examples of past uses. This information is intended to help identify appropriate federal regulatory assistance and federal agency points of contact. The major categories of regulatory relief covered here include:

  • Waivers
  • Special Permits
  • No Action Assurances (NAA)

Overview of Energy Waiver Library

This is a table that shows the cross over between waiver categories and granting agencies

OVERVIEW OF WAIVER-GRANTING DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

Department of Energy (DOE)

DOE is the Sector-Specific Agency (SSA) and the Sector Risk Management Agency (SRMA) for the energy sector.

DOE serves as the lead federal coordinating agency for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #12 – Energy under the National Response Framework. DOE also has its own authorities under the Federal Power Act to address electricity shortages and secure the grid.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA is granted authority by the Clean Air Act to regulate and waive standards for transportation fuels, emissions from generators, and emissions at fuel distribution terminals. EPA is the lead federal coordinating agency for ESF #10 – Oil and Hazardous Materials Response.

By waiving certain fuel standards during emergency supply disruptions, the Federal Government can ensure that an adequate supply of fuel is available, especially for emergency operations in key critical infrastructure sectors. With the concurrence of DOE, EPA is authorized to issue fuel waivers under the Clean Air Act. Fuel waivers are contingent upon the fuel disruption being temporary, extreme, and unusual, and applying to the smallest geographic area necessary. For more information on fuel waivers, please visit the EPA Fuel Waivers page and its FAQ page.

EPA also has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate air pollutants from stationary and temporary power generators and emissions at fuel distribution terminals. In emergency circumstances, EPA may issue No Action Assurances (NAAs) temporarily stopping EPA enforcement of specific requirements to facilitate power and fuel supply to a region.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

DHS has the authority to waive Jones Act requirements that otherwise ensure that only U.S. flag coastwise qualified vessels provide transport between U.S. ports, coastlines, states, and territories. This waiver has been used in recent years to address fuel shortages caused by natural disasters and facilitate the transport of petroleum products to affected regions.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

Under the National Response Framework, DOT is the primary federal agency for the ESF #1 - Transportation. For an overview of all DOT agencies and fact sheets, visit the DOT Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Information webpage.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

Once the President, state Governors, or the FMCSA Field Administrator has declared an emergency, certain federal transportation safety regulations related to interstate commerce can be temporarily suspended. These regulations include the hours of service requirements that limit the number of hours a driver may drive within a period of time. FMCSA waivers are commonly used to help relieve fuel shortages within a multi-state region.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

PHMSA is charged with ensuring the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials through pipelines. In emergency circumstances, PHMSA may grant special permits that temporarily modify compliance with federal pipeline regulations for owners and operators.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

FERC is an independent agency that regulates interstate transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity, as well as natural gas and hydropower projects. During emergencies, FERC has the authority to prioritize certain shipments on interstate product pipelines to address fuel shortages.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

The IRS collects federal tax on all fuel used for highway motor vehicles. During emergency events, the IRS may grant waivers to people selling and using dyed fuel for highway use in disaster areas. The IRS waivers allow off-road dyed diesel fuel to be used in on-road vehicles without tax penalty.

I. GENERATION AND TRANSMISSION WAIVERS

Federal Power Act Section 202(c)

Granting agency: DOE

Background: The U.S. Secretary of Energy has emergency authority to order temporary actions under the Federal Power Act Section 202(c) to address electric reliability. A 202(c) order can be directed to any entity that owns or operates electric power generation, transmission, or distribution facilities. In recent years, 202(c) requests have been primarily submitted by Independent System Operators (ISOs) and utilities.

While not a waiver, a 202(c) order supersedes normal regulatory requirements. The 202(c) order is issued infrequently; utilized only five times between 2017 and April 2021.

Potential precipitating emergencies qualifying for a 202(c) order include a sudden increase in customer demand, the inability to obtain adequate amounts of fuel to generate electricity, any regulatory actions that prohibit the use of certain electric power supply facilities, or extended periods of insufficient power supply. For example, under normal circumstances, three major power grids (“interconnections”) in the U.S. operate largely independently, with limited connections to transfer power between them. The 202(c) order can be used to allow temporary interconnections to address electricity reliability needs. 202(c) can also be used to allow individual generators to run at maximum output levels to alleviate electricity shortages during events.

Past use:

  • On February 14, 2021, a 202(c) emergency order was issued to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) through February 19, 2021, to preserve the reliability of the bulk electric power system in response to shortages of electricity and electric generation during an extreme cold weather event. Given the record demand for electricity and insufficient generation, DOE authorized ERCOT to dispatch generating units as needed to maintain electric reliability, even when doing so exceeded federal emissions permitting levels.
  • A 202(c) emergency order was also issued in September 2020 to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to allow specific electric generating units at three generation facilities to operate at maximum output levels due to an ongoing extreme heat event. The order allowed these units to temporarily exceed federal air quality standards to help meet the extreme demand for electricity during the heat event and preserve the reliability of the bulk electric power system.
  • In August 2020, an electric utility in Houston, Texas, was authorized via 202(c) to temporarily connect to a neighboring system at transmission and distribution levels to assist in electricity restoration in the wake of Hurricane Laura. One utility operates within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), while the other operates within ERCOT. The interconnection was made via an existing permanent 138-kV tie-line in Texas.

Other uses of DOE’s Federal Power Act emergency authority can be found on the DOE Office of Electricity website.

Point of contact: All comments related to 202(c) should be sent to AskOE@hq.doe.gov. Requests for the Secretary to use this emergency authority should be directed to the 24/7 DOE Watch Office at energyresponsecenter@hq.doe.gov or 202-586-8100.

No Action Assurances for Generator-Related Emissions Regulations

Granting agency: EPA

Background: While not a formal waiver, an NAA letter may be granted by EPA during emergency circumstances to lift regulations on emissions related to permanent and temporary power generation. Among other functions, these regulations allow generators to run beyond limits otherwise imposed by the Clean Air Act to ensure quick restoration of lost electrical service and to ensure sufficient power for affected communities.

A variety of stakeholders may request an NAA. Within the past few years, NAAs have been requested by states, utilities, and private companies.

Past use:

  • February 14, 2020, EPA announced it would exercise enforcement discretion for some electric power generating units at Puerto Rico facilities in response to the earthquakes that began in January 2020. The earthquake and its aftershocks damaged the power grid. The NAA allowed Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to operate specific oil, coal, and natural gas-fired generating units beyond usual environmental limits to provide power and facilitate power restoration. In response to the earthquakes, EPA also issued NAA letters to specific companies relying on emergency generators to continue critical functions. EPA issued one such letter to a company that produces pharmaceuticals and whose grid-supplied electric supply was disrupted by the earthquakes. Given the criticality of the company’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, EPA announced that it would not enforce violations of engine operating hour limits typically in place to minimize emissions for the company’s emergency generators.
  • NAAs issued during Hurricane Irma in 2017 illustrate the wide variety of NAAs EPA is capable of issuing. EPA issued a blanket NAA allowing all Florida power facilities to maintain electricity supply to customers and facilities. It issued NAAs for three Tampa power plants for compliance with air permit conditions to ensure an adequate supply of electric power. Another NAA allowed the import of 255 power generators to be donated for use in impacted communities. A final generation-related NAA allowed emergency and backup electric generating units in Monroe County, Florida, to operate without meeting all pollution controls to facilitate electric supply.

Point of contact: Questions about EPA’s NAA letters can be directed to the EPA Emergency Operations Center, staffed 24/7/365, at either 202-564-3850 or eoc.epahq@epa.gov.

II. FUEL USE WAIVERS

Waivers of Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Requirements

Granting agency: EPA

Applicable fuels: Gasoline

Background: RFG is a blended gasoline that burns more cleanly than conventional gasoline and is required in some metropolitan regions to improve air quality and reduce smog. The RFG program is mandated in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. As of December 2020, EPA requires a 7.4 pounds per square inch (psi) Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) for sale in these RFG-covered areas.

RFG is primarily required in urban areas due to high smog content, and as of April 2021, it is used in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Volatility requirements are in effect June 1 through September 15 for fuel retailers and May 1 through September 15 for everyone else (refineries, terminals, etc.) In addition to major metropolitan regions, RFG is also required statewide in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Please refer to EPA’s RFG webpage for a full list of RFG covered areas.

During emergency response situations in which there are fuel shortages or potential fuel shortages, RFG requirements may be waived by EPA to ensure an adequate supply of fuel is available. RFG waivers usually allow regulated parties to produce, sell, or distribute conventional gasoline instead of RFG. Waivers are typically prompted by a natural disaster or other events that cause or are anticipated to cause fuel supply chain disruptions or periods of particularly high or low gasoline demand. Because RFG is primarily required in select metropolitan regions, RFG requirements are usually waived within a broader waiver of low-volatility requirements, often with a specific section of the RVP waiver dedicated to RFG. Waivers also often lift the usual prohibition on combining or co-mingling any RFG blendstock for oxygenate blending (BOBs) with any other gasoline, blendstock, or oxygenate unless certain conditions are met.

RFG waivers are typically requested by state or territory governors or on their behalf (often through the state environmental protection agency). EPA grants fuel waivers in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Energy and state representatives. Please see the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) Guidance for States on Petroleum Shortage Response Planning website for a template for requesting EPA fuel specification waivers. 

Past use:

  • In September 2017, an RFG waiver was granted for 38 East Coast states and the District of Columbia to address fuel supply emergencies caused by Hurricane Harvey and the temporary storm-related closure of over a dozen Gulf Coast refineries. The waiver allowed conventional winter gasoline (gasoline not manufactured to meet summer RVP specifications) to be sold and distributed in the affected RFG-covered areas. Additional RVP requirements were also temporarily lifted in this waiver.
  • In September 2016, EPA waived federal RFG requirements in 11 East Coast states and the District of Columbia due to the failure of a major pipeline segment in Alabama. The pipeline failure caused a shortage of RFG in affected RFG-covered areas and a shortage of conventional gasoline in non-RFG covered areas. Under the waiver, EPA temporarily allowed regulated parties to sell conventional gasoline in affected RFG-covered areas. It also lifted the prohibition on combining RFG blendstock for oxygenate blending.

Point of contact: Questions about EPA’s fuel programs can be directed to FuelsProgramSupport@epa.gov or call 1-800-385-6164 between 9 AM and 5 PM ET Monday through Friday.

During an emergency, questions can be directed to the EPA Emergency Operations Center, staffed 24/7/365, at either 202-564-3850 or eoc.epahq@epa.gov.

In addition to official coordination with the EPA, consider sharing any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness, particularly given DOE’s role in assessing fuel supply and sharing that information with the EPA.

Waivers of Gasoline Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) Regulations

Granting agency: EPA

Applicable fuels: Gasoline

Background: EPA regulates the RVP (a measure of volatility) of gasoline during summer months to reduce evaporative emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone. Federal RVP standards require the sale of low-volatility summer gasoline at retail gasoline stations from June 1 through September 15 (refiners and product terminals are subject to federal low-volatility summer gasoline regulations beginning May 1.) During these summer months, EPA requires gasoline to meet a maximum per-gallon RVP limit of 9.0 psi. For comparison, winter gasoline volatility varies by state and region according to state-level regulations but may reach 15 psi RVP in parts of the country to encourage ignition on cold days.

Certain locations are required to meet even more stringent requirements, including:

  • Areas required to sell RFG, which has a required RVP of 7.4 psi (see above).
  • Select urban areas subject to a federal standard of 7.8 psi.
  • California, which sells California RFG as required by state law.
  • Regions in which the EPA has approved state fuel rules that require an RVP of less than 9.0 psi.
  • Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories, which are exempt from federal volatility regulations.

States may also apply to receive a 1.0 psi RVP allowance for gasoline containing 9-15 volume percent ethanol.

Please see EPA’s Gasoline Reid Vapor Pressure website for additional information on the fuel requirements above. 

During emergency circumstances, EPA may waive summer gasoline requirements, allowing regulated parties additional flexibility to acquire and sell fuel. These waivers are typically requested by state or territory governors or on their behalf (often through the state environmental protection agency). EPA grants fuel waivers in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Energy and state representatives.

RVP waivers allow higher-RVP fuel to be sold in the affected region, usually to increase supply. Because RFG requirements are a stricter volatility requirement within RVP requirements, fuel waivers granted to regions in which RFG is also required will commonly waive both requirements.

RVP waivers may be granted in two general circumstances:

  • Most commonly, a disruption to fuel supply chains during the summer months causes a shortage or anticipated shortage of gasoline in a region with more stringent RVP requirements. The precipitating event can often be a natural disaster that increases demand for fuel (for example, a hurricane evacuation) and disrupts the fuel supply chain, or affects refinery operation and curtails fuel production. Other events, such as a pipeline or refinery explosion, may also require waivers. A waiver may allow higher-RVP gasoline to be sold in the affected region to increase supply in these cases.
  • Rarely, an RVP waiver may be used to address an oversupply of winter-grade gasoline heading into the spring transition to summer-grade gasoline, as was the case in Spring 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An overview and list of RVP requirements are available on EPA’s Gasoline Reid Vapor Pressure website. Please see the NASEO Guidance for States on Petroleum Shortage Response Planning website for a template for requesting EPA fuel specification waivers. 

State fuel standards and fuel waivers

States also commonly adopt into law the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) fuels standards, which provide additional guidance on seasonal fuel volatility beyond federal standards. ASTM standards recommend month-to-month which vapor pressure classes of fuel should be used in each region of the country. During an emergency that occurs outside the federally regulated summer months, these RVP standards are waived at the state level.

For example, in Wisconsin, high-RVP gasoline of 15 psi cannot be sold after April 1, at which time 13.5-psi gasoline is sold. 13.5-psi RVP gasoline is in effect until May 1, when the stricter EPA regulations for vapor pressure begin to apply to stakeholders. A fuel shortage in Wisconsin in April would prompt a state waiver for the month of April, followed by an EPA waiver beginning in May if needed.

Past use:

  • In March 2020, to address fuel oversupply at the beginning of the summer gasoline season, EPA issued a nationwide waiver of RVP requirements to facilitate the turnover of storage tanks from winter to summer gasoline. At the time, there was an oversupply of winter-grade gasoline due to lower consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, and terminals had significant stores of winter fuel, preventing them from loading summer-grade fuel into the tanks and leading to a potential shortage of summer-grade gasoline. The waiver temporarily lifted the requirement to sell summer gasoline, as well as the prohibition from combining RBOB gasoline with any other gasoline, blendstock, or oxygenate. The waiver applied to terminals, distributors, retailers, and other stakeholders involved in selling gasoline but did not allow refineries to produce winter gasoline after May 1.

Point of contact: Questions about EPA’s fuel programs can be directed to FuelsProgramSupport@epa.gov, or call 1-800-385-6164 between 9 AM and 5 PM ET Monday through Friday.

Considerations: please share any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness, particularly given DOE’s role in assessing fuel supply and sharing that information with EPA.

Waivers of Red Dye Diesel Regulations

Granting agency: EPA and IRS

Applicable fuels: Diesel

Background: EPA regulates the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel to 15 parts per million (ppm) to minimize harmful emissions. Known as ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), this fuel is required in all on- and off-road diesel-powered vehicles. Undyed diesel fuel used in on-road vehicles is subject to an IRS tax of 24.4 cents per gallon. Diesel fuel used in off-road vehicles and equipment (such as tractors, heavy construction equipment, and generators) is required to be dyed red to signal that it is not subject to this tax. Typically, if dyed diesel fuel is used in on-road vehicles, the IRS would require it to be reported and tax paid accordingly.

In extreme circumstances, such as fuel shortages caused by natural disasters and other supply chain disruptions, EPA can waive highway diesel fuel red dye requirements to allow the sale, distribution, and use of red-dyed diesel fuel in highway vehicles. EPA grants these waivers in consultation with DOE. The waiver applies only to the dye of the fuel, and the ULSD 15 ppm requirement is still in effect.

The EPA waiver is typically issued in conjunction with an IRS waiver, in which the IRS states that it will not impose a penalty when dyed diesel fuel is sold for use or used on the highway during these fuel emergencies.

EPA waivers for red dye requirements are typically requested by governors or on their behalf.

Past use:

  • On August 30, 2019, EPA waived the red dye requirement to allow the use of red dyed 15 ppm sulfur non-road locomotive and marine diesel fuel in diesel-powered highway vehicles in Florida due to supply interruptions caused by Hurricane Dorian. The IRS also waived the tax penalty for dyed diesel fuel sold for use or used on the highway in Florida. The IRS waiver remained in effect for two weeks.
  • After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the IRS did not impose a tax penalty on on-road dyed diesel fuel use in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania from October 30 through December 7.

Point of contact: An overview of EPA’s diesel fuel standards and rulemakings can be found here. Questions about fuel programs can be directed to FuelsProgramSupport@epa.gov or call 1-800-385-6164 between 9 AM and 5 PM ET Monday through Friday.

During an emergency, questions can be directed to the EPA Emergency Operations Center, staffed 24/7/365, at either 202-564-3850 or eoc.epahq@epa.gov.

The IRS Excise Hotline is 866-699-4096 and is available Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 6 PM ET for questions about the IRS waiver.

In addition to official coordination with IRS, consider sharing any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness. 

III. TRANSPORTATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF FUELS

Jones Act Waiver for Maritime Commerce

Granting agency: DHS

Background: The Merchant Marine Act, also known as the Jones Act, prohibits any foreign-built, foreign-owned, or foreign-flag vessel from transporting goods between U.S. ports. The same prohibitions apply to U.S.-flag vessels that are not coastwise qualified. In the aftermath of an event, however, resources—including shipping vessels—can be scarce, and the need to transport goods can exceed the number of Jones Act-compliant vessels. When the Jones Act is waived, foreign vessels and U.S.-flag vessels that are not otherwise qualified become authorized to transport goods between U.S. ports. Jones Act waivers may either be granted broadly, to apply to an entire region, or a specific company or cargo.

Jones Act waivers are most commonly granted to address fuel shortages caused by natural disasters and facilitate the transport of petroleum products to affected regions. Jones Act waivers are especially useful when product pipelines are inoperable due to power outages or damage. They have also been used to help facilitate the drawdown of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) during extreme fuel shortages, transport an oil rig from the Gulf Coast to Alaska, and assist with the cleanup of major offshore oil spills.

Jones Act waivers are granted by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. They are requested via two methods:

  • Waivers requests that come from the U.S. Secretary of Defense in the interest of national security are granted automatically.
  • Waiver requests made to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are evaluated and are granted if there are no Jones Act-approved vessels available for the required transportation and if the request is in the interest of national security. DOE monitors energy supply needs and advises CBP Jones Act waiver requests during periods of actual or imminent energy shortages.

Past uses:

  • In September 2017, several Jones Act waivers were granted in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria:
    • DHS granted a waiver on September 8, 2017, in response to severe disruptions in both the midstream and downstream sectors of the oil supply system due to Hurricane Harvey and in locations predicted to be affected by Hurricane Irma. DHS extended and expanded the waiver on September 11, 2017, to last through September 22 and apply to additional states. Per DOE’s recommendation, the expanded waiver lifted Jones Act requirements to facilitate the transportation of petroleum products from 11 states to the six affected states and Puerto Rico.
    • The Hurricane Maria waiver was granted on September 28, 2017, and was in effect for ten days. The Hurricane Maria waiver applied broadly to all products shipped from U.S. waters to Puerto Rico and was not specific to energy needs.
  • DHS granted a waiver and waiver amendment on November 2, 2012, at the recommendation of DOE to address the energy impacts of Hurricane Sandy. The waiver allowed transportation of petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast and allowed oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico could immediately bring shipments to storm-impacted ports. The amendment released a day later expanded the waiver to include the transportation of other feedstocks, blending components, and additives used to produce fuels. The waiver lasted for almost three weeks.

Point of contact: Requests to waive the Jones Act should be sent to CBP at JonesActWaiverRequest@cbp.dhs.gov A Jones Act waiver request should include the reason/justification for the request, and information about the cargo, shipping, and delivery dates, and other information listed on the  CBP Jones Act Waiver Request website.

Consider sharing any waiver requests that implicate energy supply needs or shortages with EmergencyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to facilitate such requests in a timely manner.

Pipeline Emergency Special Permits

Granting agency: DOT-PHMSA

Background: During an incident, PHMSA can issue an emergency special permit to temporarily modify compliance with federal pipeline regulations for owners or operators. PHMSA may issue these permits if they are in the public interest, are not inconsistent with pipeline safety, and are necessary to address an actual or impending emergency involving pipeline transportation. Qualifying emergency events include significant fuel supply disruptions and natural or manmade disasters. Events may be local, regional, or national in scope.

Applicants for these emergency special permits must specify the regulations from which the applicant seeks relief and indicate how operating the pipeline under the permit would be in the public interest (for example, ensuring continuity of service or service restoration).

Past uses:

  • PHMSA issued an Emergency Special Permit after Hurricane Sandy in September 2012 to waive compliance from certain hazardous liquids requirements at two terminals in New Jersey. The waiver allowed the terminal operator to operate facilities manually with personnel that was otherwise not qualified, provided they were under the direction of qualified personnel. By increasing the manpower available at the terminal, the waiver allowed terminals to increase the output of product to near normal levels despite the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

For more information on Emergency Special Permits issued by PHMSA, please visit the PHMSA website for additional information, requirements, previous register notices related to special permit applications, and available state waivers. Some past permits are listed on the PHMSA Special Permits and State Waivers Overview website, which also includes information on special permit requirements and state waivers.

Point of contact: Requests for emergency special permits should be directed to PHMSA’s Office of Pipeline Safety at (202) 366-4595 or phmsa.pipeline-emergencyspecpermit@dot.gov. The PHMSA emergency special permit website also lists information that should be included in each request, such as an explanation of the actual or impending emergency, specific reasons the special permit is necessary, and a statement indicating whether and how operating pipeline pursuant to an emergency special permit is in the public interest.

Consider sharing any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness. 

Driver, Load, and Inspection Standards Waivers

Granting agency: DOT-FMCSA

Background: FMCSA requires that drivers of commercial vehicles engaged in interstate commerce meet certain requirements for driver qualifications, vehicle parts and accessories required for safe operation, frequency of vehicle inspection and maintenance procedures, and hours of service requirements (see below).

When an emergency is declared by the President, FMCA or a state or territory’s Governor, FMCA’s provisions are temporarily suspended, allowing resources to arrive more quickly in affected regions. FMCSA waivers do not exempt drivers from the portions of the requirements relating to commercial driver’s licenses, drug and alcohol requirements, hazardous materials, size and weight, state and federal registration, and tax requirements (Note that some of these may be waived by individual states in state-level waivers. Individual states manage weigh stations, and requirements to stop at weigh stations are not waived under FMCSA waivers).

FMCSA waivers are commonly issued in response to natural disasters and fuel shortages caused by prolonged cold weather or other events. Waivers allow utility crews and fuel distributors to respond more quickly to events and assist for more extended periods before resting. They apply only to drivers who provide direct assistance to the emergency, and drivers are exempt from the regulations in all states along their route to the emergency, even if the intermediate states have not declared an emergency or are affected by it.

NASEO’s Guidance for States on Petroleum Shortage Response Planning website provides a template for requesting a FMCSA waiver for fuel transport. NASEO’s Guidance for States on Relief from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in an Energy Emergency report (November 2018) may also be of use in understanding and requesting these waivers.

Past uses:

  • In October 2020, FMCSA issued a waiver for Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas in response to Hurricane Delta. Fuel was among the goods included in the waiver.
  • Another waiver was granted in October 2020 for California and Oregon, exempting fuel and other goods from the usual FMCSA requirements.

Point of contact: The FMCSA emergency webpage lists all PHMSA and state-granted waivers currently in effect. FMCSA can be contacted at FMCSADeclaration@dot.gov or (877) 831-2250 for information about FMCSA emergency declarations and regulations during a declared disaster.

For information on state-level declarations and waivers, check the FMCSA website and the Governor’s Office website for affected states, as well as the White House Briefing Room website, which lists Presidential declarations of emergencies and disasters.

Driver Hours of Service Requirements Waivers

Granting agency: DOT-FMCSA

Background: The amount of time property-carrying drivers may drive within a given time period is regulated by FMCSA. During times of emergency, these hours of service (HOS) requirements may be waived to allow utility crews or fuel deliveries to arrive faster and to assist for longer periods of time. HOS waivers may be prompted by the unanticipated shutdown of a refinery, a disruption to a pipeline, a severe power outage, prolonged cold weather, or other event causing a fuel shortage. Although not all disasters are necessarily energy emergencies, fuel distribution may be prioritized to the impacted areas to facilitate recovery efforts.

Motor carriers are exempt from these FMCSA regulations throughout their route as long as their destination state is under a state of emergency. Drivers must be providing direct emergency assistance to be exempt from the safety regulations, and certain regulations related to commercial driver’s licenses, drug and alcohol requirements, hazardous materials, size and weight, or state and federal registration and tax requirements are not waived.

FMCSA may waive HOS regulations once the President, the state or territory’s governor, or the FMCSA Field Administrator for the area in which the event has occurred declares an emergency. A regional FMCSA waiver is most commonly declared for a group of states, although a FMCSA waiver can also be declared for the entire country, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individual states can waive HOS requirements for transport within their state to support the response effort, whereas the FMCSA waivers apply to interstate travel. For example, in February 2021, the State of Connecticut waived HOS requirements for the intrastate transportation of diesel fuel, heating oil, kerosene, propane, gasoline, and biodiesel due to extreme cold weather and snowstorms. Such state-granted waivers are common, especially in response to summer and winter storms.

Please see the NASEO Guidance for States on Petroleum Shortage Response Planning website for a template for requesting a FMCSA waiver for fuel transport. NASEO’s Guidance for States on Relief from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in an Energy Emergency report (November 2018) may also be of use in understanding and requesting these waivers.

Past uses:

  • In February 2021, drivers in 33 states and DC were granted an exemption from most of the HOS requirements due to infrastructure damage from severe winter storms and shortages of heating fuel and other fuel. The waiver applied only to commercial motor vehicle operators providing direct assistance to the emergency relief effort, such as transporting heating fuels and gasoline.
  • In August 2020, PHMSA granted a similar waiver for motor carriers and drivers responding to Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This waiver exempted a variety of transported cargo from the usual regulations, including fuel.

Point of contact: The FMCSA emergency webpage lists all PHMSA and state-granted waivers currently in effect. FMCSA can be contacted at (877) 831-2250 about FMCSA regulations during a declared disaster.

For information on executive actions, check the Governor’s Office website for affected states, as well as the White House Briefing Room website, which lists Presidential declarations of emergencies and disasters.

No Action Assurances Related to Emissions Regulations at Distribution Terminals

Granting agency: EPA

Background: While not a formal waiver, a NAA Letter may be granted by EPA to temporarily pause enforcement of regulations that minimize air pollution at fuel distribution terminals. There are three major categories of regulations for which EPA may issue NAAs.

  • Vapor recovery regulations: Vapor recovery equipment is used during fuel loading and unloading at terminals and truck loading racks to minimize emissions. During an emergency, vapor recovery devices may become damaged during power outages, and/or fuel shortages may necessitate the use of fuel terminals that are not outfitted with vapor recovery systems. In these circumstances, EPA may issue an NAA to allow the loading and unloading of fuel without the use of vapor recovery devices.
  • Tank roof landing emissions: The EPA regulates that floating roof storage tanks need to maintain a certain amount of fuel in the tank to minimize emissions. These requirements may be lifted during a fuel shortage to allow the residual gasoline left in storage tanks to be used up and distributed to customers.
  • Tanker truck tightness requirements: EPA requires that the vapor tightness of gasoline tank trucks be tested periodically to minimize emissions during fuel loading and unloading. Terminals must keep documentation of trucks’ vapor tightness at the facility and may only load gasoline into tank trucks with documentation. During an emergency, EPA may issue an NAA to facilitate the distribution of fuel by allowing trucks to load at terminals even if they have not been registered with the terminal as having completed the tank tightness testing.

Past uses:

  • EPA issued an NAA in October 2018 to allow the loading and unloading of fuel at fuel distribution terminals without functioning vapor recovery equipment. Operational issues during Hurricane Michael damaged some existing vapor recovery equipment and some terminals without vapor recovery equipment needed to be used to address fuel shortages. Under the NAA, EPA chose not to enforce the vapor recovery regulations at bulk gasoline terminals, pipeline breakout stations, marine tank vessel loading operations, and gasoline loading racks.
  • In September 2017, EPA issued an NAA letter for Texas stating that the agency would not enforce tank roof landing requirements. Prolonged refinery closures during Hurricane Harvey had created a gasoline shortage in Texas, and the NAA allowed the residual gasoline to be sold to help alleviate the shortage.
  • EPA issued another NAA for tank tightness testing in Florida in October 2018, in response to fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Michael. The evacuation process, damage to infrastructure, and flooding had caused fuel shortages. Some of the fleet being used to distribute fuel to affected areas came from out of state or were otherwise responding outside of their normal distribution area. Because these trucks needed to load fuel at terminals that did not have documentation of the trucks’ tank tightness, the NAA allowed these trucks to load fuel to assist with the hurricane response.

Point of contact: Questions about EPA’s NAA letters can be directed to the EPA Emergency Operations Center, staffed 24/7/365, at either 202-564-3850 or eoc.epahq@epa.gov.

Please consider sharing any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness. 

Emergency Prioritization of Pipeline Shipments

Granting agency: FERC

Background: Under the Interstate Commerce Act, FERC has the authority to order priority shipments on regulated interstate pipelines during emergency circumstances. Such prioritized shipments can be used to help alleviate shortages of a specific fuel type.

Past uses:

  • During a propane shortage in February 2014, FERC ordered a major products pipeline to prioritize propane shipments for one week. This helped address the shortage by directing additional supply to the affected regions. The National Propane Gas Association initially requested the emergency authority.

Point of contact: Questions about FERC’s authority to prioritize fuel pipeline shipments during an emergency can be directed to customer@ferc.gov or 202-502-6088. Please consider also sharing any FERC requests with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness. 

IV. CLEAN UP AND EVENT RECOVERY

Waiver of Hazardous Materials Regulations for Oil and Hazardous Materials Incidents

Granting agency: DOT-PHMSA

Background: PHMSA has the authority to waive compliance with hazardous materials regulations to facilitate the safe movement of hazardous materials into, from, and within an area of a major disaster or emergency. Hazardous materials incidents addressed in the waiver include incidents related to oil. The waiver is commonly granted in response to natural disasters that pose a risk of hazardous materials spills, including earthquakes and hurricanes.

Past uses:

  • In September 2020, PHMSA granted a waiver of the hazardous materials regulations to prepare for, respond to, and recover from oil and hazardous materials incidents related to Hurricane Sally. The waiver applied to disaster and emergency areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama (including the Poarch Band of Creek Indians), and Florida.
  • In August 2020, PHMSA issued a waiver to Hurricanes Laura and Marco's emergency and disaster areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The waiver was granted to allow EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard to safely remove, transport, and dispose of hazardous materials, including oil, during their response to Hurricanes Laura and Marco.
  • In September 2017, a waiver was granted for all of Florida, Puerto Rico, South Carolina (including the Catawba Indian Nation), and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. This waiver was later amended to include Georgia.
  • The PHMSA waiver can also be used to transport essential fuel (in addition to responding to oil-related incidents), as in the Hazardous Materials Regulation waiver issued for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 to facilitate the transport of essential fuel. The waiver was deemed necessary for the safe transportation of fuel and temporarily lifted hazardous materials training, testing, and certification requirements for drivers transporting fuel. The waiver also required additional safety measures, such as that the transport of fuel be accompanied by a law enforcement or military escort.

Point of contact: PHMSA’s Hazardous Materials Information Center is available Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm ET, to answer questions on hazardous materials regulations, transportation, and rulemaking. The Hazardous Materials Information Center can be reached at 1-800-467-4922, 202-366-4488, or phmsa.hm-infocenter@dot.gov.

Please consider sharing any waiver requests or implementations with EnergyResponseCenter@hq.doe.gov to improve situational awareness. 

Contacting CESER

The information on this page is intended to assist the energy sector, including state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, in identifying appropriate federal regulatory assistance during disasters to aid in response and recovery efforts. Please note the content on other government websites is managed by their respective agencies and not DOE.

Please submit any questions about energy emergency response to the CESER Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration Division (ISER) at energyresponsecenter@hq.doe.gov or call 202-586-2264. For after-hours energy sector emergencies, please contact the DOE Emergency Operations Center at 202-586-8100.