NEMA member Rockwell Automation was featured in a Capitol Hill event this morning aimed at raising awareness of regulations the Obama Administration is considering that would severely restrict — and possibly ban — air shipment of lithium batteries and products that contain or are packed with lithium batteries. Rockwell was joined at the NAM Shopfloor event by Boston Scientific, manufacturer of implantable medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators (devices that contain small non-rechargeable long-life lithium batteries), and FedEx, which works with its regular shippers of lithium batteries to require their packaging is up to snuff for the rigors of just-in-time air transport.
The NAM event coincides with rumors that DOT regulators are preparing to short-circuit their own regulatory process and issue emergency rules on air shipments of lithium batteries. DOT issued proposed rules in January that were met with an avalanche of criticism from NEMA and other industries including freight carriers, most of whom have recommended that DOT take immediate action to improve safety by updating U.S. regulations to conform to more strigent and internationally agreed standards that are in place now in almost every other country in the world. The Wall Street Journal's take on this situation was published earlier today.
For its part, this morning Rockwell representatives explained to interested Hill staff members not only about the company's investments in regulatory compliance and best practices that ensure lithium battery transportation safety, but also the impact that DOT's proposed rules would have on costs within its operations and supply chain and on its relations with customers. FedEx threw a spotlight on its commitment to safe cargo transportation as well as the safety and regulatory compliance problems that infrequent shippers, including consumers, pose to its operations. A key solution is more industry and government outreach and communication to infrequent shippers.
NEMA's and NAM's message is that the Obama Administration must not rush into any new lithium battery transportation safety regulations, which could have immediate and catastrophic consequences for battery and equipment companies. If DOT wants regulations that are more stringent than the rest of the world, let's discuss on what basis that would be justified and what the real economic impact on NEMA members and other U.S. industries would be. But in the interim, let's quit putting off harmonization with international model regulations that governments and industry support.