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Pipeline Safety Bill Unanimously Approved by House Energy Committee

After tweaking a controversial section on emergency orders, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee unanimously approved a pipeline safety bill to reauthorize the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act for five years, beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2017.

The bill, also known as the Pipeline Safety Act of 2016, is HR 5050. House lawmakers must now merge two individual bills in the chamber before taking the combined bill to the floor for a final vote.

"Pipeline safety is something that we should all take seriously and it's been a priority of mine since I became chairman following the spill in southwest Michigan that impacted the Kalamazoo River," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the E&C chairman. "While an accident can happen in an instant, the damage takes years to fix, underscoring the need for strong safety laws."

HR 5050 reauthorizes the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to enforce the nation's pipeline laws, as outlined in the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. The bill calls for increased transparency at PHMSA, interagency reviews and increased inspections of some underwater oil pipelines, among other things.

One part of the bill, Section 15, grants the DOT secretary the authority to "impose emergency restrictions, prohibitions, and safety measures by issuing an emergency order...without prior notice or an opportunity for a hearing, but only to the extent necessary to abate the imminent hazard."

The section further defines an "imminent hazard" as "the existence of a condition relating to a gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facility that presents (A) a substantial likelihood that death, serious illness, or severe personal injury may occur; or (B) a substantial endangerment to health, property, or the environment."

Section 15 also stipulates that "an entity subject to, an adversely affected by, an emergency order...may seek judicial review of the order in a district court of the United States and shall be given expedited consideration."

In separate statements Wednesday, the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) praised HR 5050's passage and the changes made to Section 15. With the changes, HR 5050 now closely resembles HR 4937, also known as the PIPES Act of 2016, under consideration by the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee.

"Pipeline safety has strong bipartisan support and that is why we are seeing continual progress on this legislation," said AGA CEO Dave McCurdy. "We commend the E&C Committee for their bipartisan collaboration on this bill. We look forward to seeing Congress continue to work together toward getting a final pipeline safety reauthorization bill on the president's desk this year."

INGAA spokeswoman Cathy Landry said her organization "remains committed to making further modifications to this new [emergency order] authority...including most importantly ensuring that pipeline owners and operators are consulted prior to the issuance of a multi-pipeline emergency order."

HR 5050 unanimously passed the House Energy and Power Subcommittee last month (see Daily GPIMarch 17).

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