House-passed pipeline safety legislation (HR 2845) cleared the Senate Tuesday evening by unanimous consent, and will be sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign the bill into law before the end of the year.

"We commend both chambers of Congress for working in a bipartisan manner to complete work [in] this session on this important legislation, which updates and improves policies in several areas of pipeline safety, including integrity management, incident notification, public education and awareness, damage prevention and pipeline safety research and development," said Don Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents interstate natural gas pipelines.

"We are confident that President Obama will sign this bill -- one of the few energy-related pieces of legislation to pass Congress this year -- into law," he said.

The "AGA [American Gas Association] and our member companies are very pleased that the Senate saw fit to act promptly," said David McCurdy, president of the AGA, which represents gas distributors. "The passage of this bill by both chambers of Congress brings us one step closer to reaching our ultimate goal, which is getting a bill to the president's desk for signature this year."

Before taking the legislation to the House and Senate floors for a vote, the leaders of the congressional committees with jurisdiction over pipeline safety legislation -- House Transportation and Infrastructure, House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce -- earlier this month resolved discrepancies in "pre-conference" to ensure that the bill would be easily passed by both chambers (see Daily GPI, Dec. 14; Dec. 9).

Under HR 2845, the secretary of transportation will be empowered to impose a civil penalty on operators who obstruct or prevent safety inspections or investigations.

The bill also requires the use of automatic remote-controlled shut-off valves on pipelines constructed or entirely replaced after the date on which the secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) issues a final rule. Safety proponents have criticized the safety bill because it would grandfather older pipelines from being required to install certain safety technology, such as automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

Also, states seeking federal grant funding for one-call notification and damage prevention programs will no longer be allowed to give exemptions to municipal governments, state agencies or their contractors from one-call notification system requirements.

Among other things, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 would:

The increased penalties and tougher pipe safety requirements come in the wake of the Sept. 9, 2010 Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, and the pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA, which killed five people (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14, Sept. 17, 2010).

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