President Bush Friday signed into law the “Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006,” which reauthorizes and amends the Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety programs, including establishing new civil penalties for third-party excavators that fail to follow the nationwide one-call program and cause damage to pipelines.

The Congress approved the measure in mid-December. It earmarks $353 million through 2010 for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve the safety of the nation’s natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines. The new law replaces the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, which expired in September.

The bill was supported by the American Gas Association, which said it was a “significant step” in protecting natural gas distribution pipelines from damage by third-party excavators. However, pipeline operators were not successful in moderating the requirement for full inspections every seven years. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) had pushed a recommendation made by the Government Accountability Office for inspection intervals based on the relative risk assigned to the different pipelines based on a number of factors including age and location.

The law seeks to strengthen states’ one-call programs by setting new civil penalties for violators; establishes a grant program to help states develop stronger programs to prevent excavation damage to pipelines; requires the DOT to implement an integrity management program for gas distribution pipelines within one year of enactment of the measure; and requires the DOT to publish a monthly summary of its enforcement actions involving natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.

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