DOT's Pipe Safety Bill is 'Overkill,' Pipelines Say
Some say the long-awaited pipeline safety reauthorization
legislation that was unveiled by the Clinton administration earlier
last week is a pipeline's worst nightmare come true. It imposes
tougher safety standards, gives the Department of Transportation
(DOT) more inspection muscle, quadruples the amount of civil
penalties for violators, enhances criminal enforcement and
strengthens the role of states in inspecting pipelines.
The DOT's bill, the Pipeline Safety and Community Protection Act
of 2000, applies to interstate oil and natural gas pipelines. It
authorizes $30.1 million for pipeline safety activities for fiscal
year 2001, and similar amounts for 2002 through 2004. This is about
$10 million more than the current funding for pipeline safety.
Of the $30 million, more than half ($17 million) is earmarked
for grants for state pipeline safety programs during fiscal year
2001. The DOT bill proposes similar funding levels for fiscal years
2002 through 2004. With this endowment, states would be able to
supplement federal oversight of interstate pipeline operations,
including monitoring new construction and investigating accidents.
Critics of the administration's pipeline safety record applauded
the measure, which was introduced in the Senate last week by Sens.
Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD). Sen. Patty
Murray (D-WA), who authored a pipeline safety bill of her own
following a pipeline accident in Bellingham, WA, last year that
claimed three lives, called the bill "constructive." The DOT bill,
which was developed in conjunction with Murray and her staff,
"includes many of my priorities."
Not surprisingly, gas pipelines aren't big fans of the DOT
measure, S. 2409. "It's regulatory overkill in the extreme," said a
pipeline source. Pipelines especially don't like "the bill's
open-ended language that gives states authority to regulate pipes"
with respect to safety.
Pipelines intend to lobby Congress to "get a bill that addresses
the legitimate problems [involving safety] without overreacting,"
he said. "We also want to make sure [Congress understands] that the
gas industry already does a great deal" on safety. He estimated the
gas pipeline industry spends about $3,500 per mile each year on
ensuring the safety of its lines.
The bill, if approved by Congress, would go into effect for
natural gas pipelines, as well as hazardous liquid pipelines
located in sparsely populated areas, within two years of enactment.
But it would take effect in December of this year for hazardous
liquid operators of more than 500 miles that are located in densely
populated or environmentally sensitive areas.
The initiative calls for pipelines to establish comprehensive
safety programs to assess the conditions of their systems.
Specifically, the DOT initiative requires: 1) internal
inspections, pressure testing or other best achievable technology
performed on a periodic basis; 2) the use of clearly defined
criteria for analyzing the inspection or testing; 3) immediate
repair of any problems found; and 4) the use of measures (such as
emergency-flow restricting devices and leak detection) that prevent
and mitigate the consequences of a release of gas, hazardous liquid
or hazardous substance.
The measure further clarifies the authority of DOT Secretary
Rodney E. Slater to obtain records, interview persons performing
safety-sensitive functions for pipeline operators, as well as to
inspect pipelines. Also, the initiative increases by four-fold the
maximum civil penalties for pipeline safety violators, and it
authorizes, for the first time, the assessment of civil penalties
in successful lawsuits brought by private citizens. It further
states that excavators who "knowingly and willfully" disregard the
one-call notification requirements will be prosecuted.
The DOT legislation seeks to enhance criminal enforcement of the
pipeline statute. Additionally, it includes a "right-to-know"
provision requiring pipeline operators to provide public and local
communities with access to pipeline safety information, including
incident reports and safety-related condition reports. Other
information, such as pipeline maps and pipeline safety programs,
would be furnished to state and local emergency response
DOT also contemplates the creation of a national depository for
information related to pipeline failures. Lastly, the bill supports
the establishment of research partnerships between industry and
academia to develop new inspection tools and technologies. Susan