The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Thursday approved by voice vote pipeline safety reauthorization legislation (HR 2845, which may be enough to jump-start action and get a bill through Congress this year.

The transportation bill is “the primary [legislative] vehicle for the House” when it comes to pipeline safety, said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA).

In July the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee voted out legislation that is favorable to natural gas pipelines, distribution lines and offshore gathering facilities, but it is a draft measure, Edwards said (see Daily GPI, July 28). “We’re hoping the two committees can put together a unified House bill.”

Now the activity in Congress on pipeline safety “is stifled,” said INGAA spokeswoman Cathy Landry. So “any movement is good movement,” she told NGI.

The American Gas Association (AGA), which represents gas utilities, echoed the sentiment. “AGA is glad that progress is being made in moving pipeline safety legislation forward, and we want the House and Senate to pass additional legislation this fall…We look forward to seeing HR 2845 reach the House floor for a vote and gain support from the White House,” said AGA CEO Dave McCurdy.

The House transportation bill would raise civil penalties to $175,000 per violation and to $1.75 million for a series of related violations. However, it would grandfather older pipelines from being required to install certain safety technology, such as automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

The secretary of the Department of Transportation may require the use of safety technology on “transmission pipeline facilities constructed or entirely replaced after the date on which the secretary issues the final rule containing such [a] requirement,” the bill said.

But within two years after the House bill is enacted, the DOT secretary may evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond high-consequence areas.

In early May the Senate Commerce Committee voted out its pipeline safety bill (S. 275), which also would levy stiffer penalties following the spate of explosions in recent months (Daily GPI, May 6). The House and Senate’s efforts to reauthorize pipeline safety legislation come in the wake of the Sept. 9, 2010 Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion, as wells as a rash of other pipeline incidents (see Daily GPI, Sept. 17, 2010).

In February a pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA, killed five people, including a four-month-old child (see Daily GPI, Feb. 14). The blast, which was apparently triggered by a “break” in UGI Corp.’s underground natural gas pipeline, affected 47 properties, including 10 businesses, and forced more than 750 people to evacuate over a three-block area.

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