A sweeping pipeline safety bill backed by industry and safety advocates alike passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support on Monday and now moves on to the Senate.
“Our legislation makes a strong program even stronger by keeping in place regulatory measures that are working and making adjustments to those that don’t,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), primary sponsor of bill HR 2845, shortly before the voice vote. “This builds on our strong commitment to improve safety and enhance reliability of the transportation of our nation’s energy products by pipeline.”
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) predicted that the bill — officially known as the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 — would “help instill public confidence in our nation’s pipeline safety system by increasing safety standards without overly burdensome actions toward industry. Pipeline safety is not a partisan issue, but rather is something that impacts all Americans.”
Industry officials also praised the bill’s passage.
“We congratulate the House, and the committee members and their staff who worked so hard to get this bill passed,” Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), said Monday. “Because the House committees negotiated with their Senate counterparts on this compromise legislation prior to the House floor vote, we are confident the bill will be approved by the Senate and sent to President Obama in short order.”
A Senate vote on the pipeline safety bill “could be as early as tomorrow [Wednesday],” said a spokeswoman for INGAA, which represents interstate natural gas pipelines. “It’s all up in the air, but everything we’re hearing is they want to get it done this week.”
Shuster acknowledged that the bill was crafted in response to several recent high-profile pipeline incidents and yielded floor time to several representatives from the affected communities. “While the data shows that federal pipeline safety programs have been on the right track, recent pipeline incidents suggest there continues to be room for improvement,” Shuster said.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said she was personally affected by the 2008 pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2010). The disaster claimed the lives of eight of her constituents and destroyed 38 homes in her district.
“It was a horrific scene, and it destroyed that community in so many respects,” Speier said. “For too long the pipeline operators have essentially written the rules for their industry. This bill takes a very important step forward in improving pipeline safety regulation, but there is more that must be done.”
Under HR 2845, the secretary of transportation will be empowered to impose a civil penalty on operators who obstruct or prevent safety inspections or investigations. The secretary will also be authorized to require the use of automatic or remote controlled shutoff valves — or their technological equivalent — on new or entirely replaced transmission lines.
Also, states seeking federal grant funding for one-call notification and damage prevention programs will no longer be allowed to give exemptions to municipal governments, state agencies or their contractors from one-call notification system requirements.
Other key provisions of HR 2845 include:
Shuster said the transportation secretary would also have the power to redact sensitive security information operators submit over their pipelines. “These plans often contain security-sensitive information about pipelines’ operating characteristics,” Shuster said. “If this information fell into the wrong hands, it could be a real threat to public safety.”
The leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee announced that they had reached a consensus over the provisions of HR 2845 last Thursday Meanwhile, the Senate passed its own pipeline safety bill, S 275, in October (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9; Oct. 19).
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