Ray LaHood, who made pipeline safety a priority during his four years with the Obama administration, will resign as secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) when his successor is confirmed.

“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” LaHood said Tuesday. “It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the department and all the important work we still have to do.”

During the past four years, “we have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows,” he said.

With LaHood departing, Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated for secretary of defense, would be the only Republican in the Obama administration if he is approved by the Senate.

LaHood was named transportation secretary in January 2009. During his term, there were three major explosions on natural gas pipelines: in San Bruno, CA; Allentown, PA; and Sissonville, WV (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12, 2012; Feb. 11, 2011; Sept. 22, 2010). The series of incidents has led to more rigorous regulations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency of DOT.

Those mentioned as possible successors to LaHood include Deborah Hersman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board; former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; James Oberstar, a former Minnesota congressman who once chaired the House transportation committee; and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa.

The PHMSA has been implementing mandates in response to the pipeline safety bill that Obama signed into law in January 2012 (see Daily GPI, Jan. 4, 2012). Of the 42 mandates required under the bill, PHMSA implemented 16 during the past year or 38%, including ones involving leak-detection technology and auto and remote shut-off valves, PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman told the Senate Commerce Committee Monday (see Daily GPI, Jan. 29).

Although he was pleased with the pipeline safety bill that passed out of the Senate, Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV said “it was compromised a great deal in the House.” He said he plans to “push for stronger requirements to move pipeline safety even further.”

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