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House Panel Frustrated by Slow Pace of Pipeline, Rail Car Regulations

House lawmakers said they are frustrated by how long it is taking the Obama administration to create rules governing pipeline and rail car safety, and they questioned why it is taking so long to formally nominate people to top regulatory posts.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, told attendees at a hearing Tuesday that, despite holding two hearings last year on the same issues, no proposed regulations have been forthcoming.

"In those two hearings, we expressed our frustration with the administration about how not enough progress has been made getting the numerous rules out," Denham said in his prepared remarks. "Sadly today, we are back asking the same questions. Where are these rules? Why are they still delayed? What is the administration doing about it?"

Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said the agency had 10 items to complete from the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and that the rules were still being completed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). She added that the FRA doesn't have the power to unilaterally enact regulations.

"The regulatory actions we issue must be borne out of a robust dialogue with all stakeholders, the public and industry, and a rigorous economic analysis that considers both the benefits to safety and the cost to industry," Feinberg said during her testimony.

Tim Butters, acting administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), told lawmakers that his agency was in the final stages of developing four rules for rail cars that carry flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol (see Shale Daily, April 8). The rules were recommended earlier this month by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Butters added that PHMSA had completed 22 of the 42 mandates it was given when Congress passed the Pipeline Safety Act in 2012. Still awaiting completion by the agency are rules governing civil penalties, automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves; cast iron pipelines; leak detection; biofuel and carbon dioxide pipelines; gas and hazardous liquid gathering lines; maximum allowable operating pressure and seismicity.

NTSB recommended that PHMSA implement a schedule for the tank car industry to begin retrofitting DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars to higher standards. Butters said a tank car committee within DOT has brought together "the tank car manufacturers, the shippers [and] the carriers. [They] have been working on this tank car specification issue for a number of years.

"We have relied on their process to develop that right specification. Obviously, with the huge growth in transportation of this product required the acceleration of that process. We're bound by the process we have to follow, and because of the complication of this particular rulemaking...to put that final rule together is complex and it's taken quite bit of time."

But Denham immediately took issue with Butters' testimony.

"Come on, that's just an excuse," Denham said. "It's four years now. I understand rules take a lot of time...but four years by this administration? I mean, not only is this committee frustrated, the folks that we represent, the American public, are frustrated. They're frustrated any time we have another pipeline that explodes or has challenges [and] every time that there's a train that [derails] and we have an explosion because there's no tank car rule.

"Four years is too long. We can't have any more excuses on these."

The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), concurred.

"There's no excuse," Capuano said. "It's not that complicated, either you do it or you don't. Canada did it in about a blink [see Shale Daily, March 19; March 12]. I've never seen this -- we have a major rail company [BNSF Railway Co.] that's ahead of the regulators [see Shale Daily, March 31]. They're about to stop the use of DOT-111s and lower their speeds without being told to do so. That's amazing me."

During questioning by the panel, Feinberg and Butters both said they would be interested in accepting their respective posts on a permanent basis but that the decision was up to the White House.

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