Senate Votes Out Record Funds for Pipeline Safety

Before leaving for recess earlier this month, the Senate voted out a $60 billion transportation spending bill that calls for record funding for pipeline safety and inspection programs.

By unanimous consent, it approved the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, S. 1178, that allocates an estimated $58.7 million in funding for fiscal year 2002 for the DOT's Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), which oversees the safety regulation of interstate natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.

The budgeted amount is nearly $12 million more than the current spending level for OPS, $5 million more than what the Bush administration sought and $10 million above what the House of Representatives approved for the federal agency in late June in H.R. 2299.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), which represents interstate gas pipelines, backed the administration's budget request of $53 million for OPS, said Martin Edwards, director of legislative affairs for the group. "It's sort of a compromise between the House and Senate positions." He expects the two houses to reach an agreement on the OPS funding level when they meet in conference in September.

The bulk of the additional funds for OPS will go for its integrity management program, which will allow for "new and heightened inspection" of pipelines, and safety research and development, Edwards said.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, has pushed for increased funding for OPS inspections/programs and stiffer pipeline-safety legislation since mid-1999, when a products pipeline exploded in her home state and killed three persons. She stepped up her efforts following the rupture and explosion on El Paso Natural Gas' South Mainline system in New Mexico last August, which left 12 dead. The Senate earlier this year approved a pipeline-safety bill, co-sponsored by Murray and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), that calls for mandatory five-year inspections of pipelines, but the House has yet to act on the issue (See NGI, Feb. 12).

The increased Senate funding, Murray said, would permit OPS to add 26 new positions (including inspectors) to its current staff; provide $4.7 million for pipeline safety research and development to improve pipeline safety and evaluation devices; budget $8 million for the Integrity Management Program for testing and best-safety practices; earmark $3.4 million to update the national mapping system and improve community right-to-know about pipelines that run through their areas; provide $2 million for the Interstate Oversight Grant program, which will enable states to ensure that interstate pipelines are using the best-damage prevention practices; allow $1 million for state One-Call Grants to prevent third-party damage to existing pipelines; retain $800,000 for the Washington State Pipeline Safety Program, which Murray secured last year; and set aside $2.6 million to upgrade the "outdated" computer and IT systems used by OPS inspectors in the field.

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