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INGAA Supports OPS, Senate Safety Measure

INGAA Supports OPS, Senate Safety Measure

Officials at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America say they have no problem with new pipeline safety legislation and increased regulatory scrutiny stemming from a recent pipeline accident that caused the deaths of 12 campers in New Mexico.

In a letter recently to Kelley Coyner, administrator for the Research and Special Programs Administration, which is the division of the Department of Transportation responsible for the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), INGAA President Jerald Halvorsen provided a rather long list of proposed programs that pipeline officials apparently wholeheartedly support, including improvements in public awareness programs and increased data reporting to the OPS. He said INGAA would be supportive of efforts by the OPS to complete a new gas pipeline integrity rule designed to increase pipeline safety through additional data reporting requirements. In addition, he said, INGAA would support an increase in the pipeline safety user fee to fund additional inspections, community outreach programs and emergency planning. INGAA also will continue to support passage of new pipeline safety legislation, he said.

At a press briefing earlier this week, Cuba Wadlington, Williams Gas Pipeline CEO and chairman of the Board Task Force on Environment for INGAA, stressed INGAA's preference for Senate Bill 2438, passed earlier this month. "We would be supportive of those new [pipeline safety] rules. House legislation is on hold for the moment," noted Wadlington. "We are hopeful that they will go on and adopt the Senate version and we can get out a bill that the president can sign before the end of the 106th Congress." (see NGI, Sept. 11)

"I don't really accept the recent criticism of [the Office of Pipeline Safety]," Wadlington added. "I think [it] has done an outstanding job over the years. You have to look at the overall results in the industry relative to the accidents that has occurred. We have an acceptable record."

That view obviously was not shared by the Government Accounting Office, which recently gave the OPS a failing grade and charged that the agency has become too cozy with the pipelines it is supposed to be regulating.

Meanwhile, ranking Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Commerce Committee are calling upon their colleagues to reject the Senate bill in favor of a stronger bill from the House.

In a Dear Colleague letter mailed to Members earlier this week, Reps. James Oberstar, (MN) and John D. Dingell (MI) called the Senate bill, S. 2438, "entirely inadequate to deal with the pipeline safety problem."

"Bills have already been drafted and introduced in the House that are much stronger than the Senate bill." Dingell and Oberstar pointed out that despite the failure of OPS to issue a final regulation requiring inspections as ordered by Congress, the Senate bill would simply "continue this failed approach by again directing OPS to issue rules, and giving OPS total discretion on the frequency of inspections and the type of technology.

The two also objected to Senate bill provisions that continue to allow pipeline companies to establish the qualifications of safety critical employees by routine performance reviews, an approach strongly opposed by National Transportation Safety Board which believes that employee testing is required.

The Senate bill also fails to make needed reforms on enforcement and the public's right to information specifically related to pipelines where they live.

House action may come next week. However, one veteran Capitol Hill observer pointed to the two-to-three weeks remaining in the legislative session, plus the general craziness that marks the closing days, and predicted it would be the Senate bill or nothing. House changes would have to jump through too many hoops, each one potentially sand-trapped, to make it this year. He also suggested that the Senate bill could be attached to a must-pass appropriations bill and sail through.

Rocco Canonica

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