Dingell Urges Major Review Of Office of Pipeline Safety
Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House
Commerce Committee, has called on Transportation Secretary Rodney
E. Slater to undertake a "thorough review and restructuring" of the
department's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) in the wake of a new
report that contends OPS officials have become too cozy with the
pipelines that they are supposed to bee regulating.
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, coupled with a
recent report by the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector
General, "paints a picture of an agency that places disturbing
amounts of faith in the industry it is supposed to regulate, and is
unable or willing to carry out any of its responsibility under the
law," wrote Dingell, who commissioned the GAO report, in a June 14
letter to Slater.
It concluded that OPS has an "abysmal" record of monitoring and
overseeing natural gas and hazardous product pipelines, Dingell
said, and that its officials continue to "brazenly thumb their
noses" at the administration and Congress by consistently failing
to carry out their directions with respect to pipeline safety
Although OPS's enforcement action increased by 132% between 1990
and 1998, the agency in many of the cases opted to send letters to
the pipeline safety violators rather than imposing monetary
penalties, the GAO said. It estimated the OPS's use of penalties
dropped 90% between 1990 and 1998, while the agency's use of
letters rose to 68% by 1998. And even in cases where penalties were
levied, they were "relatively insignificant compared to pipeline
revenues," and were only "occasionally collected" by the agency,
Dingell said of the GAO findings.
At the same time, the number of major pipeline accident
resulting in death, injury or more than $50,000 in property damage
rose 4% annually between 1989 and 1998, according to the report.
Major pipeline accidents killed 226 people, injured more than 1,030
and caused about $700 million in property damage during that period
--- with about 43% of the accidents occurring on natural gas
distribution lines, the GAO said.
In contrast, hazardous liquid pipelines, which account for the
smallest portion of total pipeline mileage, actually have had
almost eight times as many major accidents per mile as gas
distribution lines, while natural gas transmission lines have had
about three times as many major accidents per mile, the report
Despite this accident rate, the OPS historically has had the
lowest rate of any transportation agency for implementing the
recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),
as well as the mandates of Congress. The GAO report contends the
OPS has failed to implement nearly half of the 49 requirements
mandated by Congress since 1988 to improve the safety of pipelines
and enhance the agency's ability to oversee the pipeline industry.
For example, it pointed out that the OPS failed to evaluate and
make recommendations on whether risk-management principles should
be incorporated into the federal pipeline safety program.
As such, including risk management in OPS regulations "is
unjustified at this time because OPS has yet to produce a shred of
credible, quantifiable evidence to support its claim that allowing
industry to police itself is beneficial to the protection of public
health and the environment," Dingell told DOT's Slater.
The GAO report further assailed the OPS for attempting to
discontinue the use of the states to help conduct inspections of