The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday voted out a $353 million pipeline safety reauthorization bill to the Senate floor, but pipeline industry officials aren't optimistic that legislation will clear both houses of Congress this year.
"We're into the lame duck and there are not many days left," said Don Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), which represents interstate gas pipelines. He wouldn't declare pipeline safety legislation dead in the current Congress, but he conceded passage in the waning days is a long shot.
The Senate could pass its pipe safety bill ( S. 3961) before leaving for Thanksgiving. However, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, both of which have jurisdiction over pipeline safety, still have to reconcile their bills.
Santa said INGAA was disappointed the Senate Commerce bill did not include a provision that is in the House energy panel's pipeline safety bill (HR 5782), which calls on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to review the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recommendation for longer intervals between safety reassessments of natural gas pipelines.
"It's kind of like Christmas in a family with three kids and two of the stockings have something in them, but one doesn't," he said. The Senate bill's failure to tackle the seven-year reassessment issue is a "major concern for us," Santa noted.
"We think that the GAO report and the position taken by the administration makes a compelling case that it should be addressed" in pipeline safety legislation, he said. In a report issued in September, the GAO recommended that the federal government consider revising the existing pipeline safety law to allow gas pipelines to reinspect their systems for safety threats at intervals based on the risks of individual pipelines rather than at a fixed period of seven years for the entire industry, as is currently required.
The revisions, if adopted, would allow the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to establish maximum reassessment intervals of greater than seven years for less-risky pipelines, and shorter reassessment intervals for riskier gas pipelines, according to the GAO report.
The most recent pipeline safety law, the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, expired at the end of September.
With the exception of the reassessment issue, the House and Senate measures are alike in many respects. The Senate bill would establish new civil enforcement authority against excavators and pipeline operators that cause third-party damage to pipeline facilities; would provide grants to states to improve their damage-prevention programs; would require the DOT to issue integrity management standards for gas distribution lines; and would require the DOT to publish a monthly summary of enforcement actions against natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines beginning in October 2007.
In addition, the bill provides $6 million for DOT to hire an additional 45 federal inspectors over a four-year period. The DOT's PHMSA currently has 90 inspectors, which translates into one inspector for every 18,000 miles of pipeline in the United States.
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