Officials at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of Americasay they have no problem with new pipeline safety legislation andincreased regulatory scrutiny stemming from a recent pipelineaccident that caused the deaths of 12 campers in New Mexico.
In a letter last Friday to Kelley Coyner, administrator for theResearch and Special Programs Administration, which is the divisionof the Department of Transportation responsible for the Office ofPipeline Safety (OPS), INGAA President Jerald Halvorsen provided arather long list of proposed programs that pipeline officialsapparently wholeheartedly support, including improvements in publicawareness programs and increased data reporting to the OPS. He saidINGAA would be supportive of efforts by the OPS to complete a newgas pipeline integrity rule designed to increase pipeline safetythrough additional data reporting requirements. In addition, hesaid, INGAA would support an increase in the pipeline safety userfee to fund additional inspections, community outreach programs andemergency planning. INGAA also will continue to support passage ofnew pipeline safety legislation, he said.
At a press briefing earlier this week, Cuba Wadlington, WilliamsGas Pipeline CEO and chairman of the Board Task Force onEnvironment for INGAA, stressed INGAA’s preference for Senate Bill2438, passed earlier this month. “We would be supportive of thosenew [pipeline safety] rules. House legislation is on hold for themoment,” noted Wadlington. “We are hopeful that they will go on andadopt the Senate version and we can get out a bill that thepresident can sign before the end of the 106th Congress.”
“I don’t really accept the recent criticism of [the Office ofPipeline Safety],” Wadlington added. “I think [it] has done anoutstanding job over the years. You have to look at the overallresults in the industry relative to the accidents that hasoccurred. We have an acceptable record.”
That view obviously was not shared by the Government AccountingOffice, which recently gave the OPS a failing grade and chargedthat the agency has become too cozy with the pipelines it issupposed to be regulating.
Meanwhile, ranking Democrats on the House Transportation andInfrastructure Committee and the House Commerce Committee arecalling upon their colleagues to reject the Senate bill in favor ofa 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 theSenate bill, S. 2438, “entirely inadequate to deal with thepipeline safety problem.”
“Bills have already been drafted and introduced in the Housethat are much stronger than the Senate bill.” Dingell and Oberstarpointed out that despite the failure of OPS to issue a finalregulation requiring inspections as ordered by Congress, the Senatebill would simply “continue this failed approach by again directingOPS to issue rules, and giving OPS total discretion on thefrequency of inspections and the type of technology.
The two also objected to Senate bill provisions that continue toallow pipeline companies to establish the qualifications of safetycritical employees by routine performance reviews, an approachstrongly opposed by National Transportation Safety Board whichbelieves that employee testing is required.
The Senate bill also fails to make needed reforms on enforcementand the public’s right to information specifically related topipelines where they live. House action may come next week.
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