Tea Party conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has placed a procedural hold on pipeline safety reauthorization legislation, which would block the measure from coming up for a vote on the Senate floor and possibly prevent it from clearing Congress this year.

“Absolutely nothing in the current bill would have prevented the recent pipeline problems, or would have prevented the tragedy in San Bruno [CA] lat year,” he said in a statement issued last Wednesday.

“The bill puts in place new mandates; it hires new bureaucrats. But it doesn’t properly diagnose the problem, and it grandfathers in the very pipelines that have had recent problems. It makes no sense. As a doctor, I find it offensive to rush through treatment when you haven’t diagnosed the problem properly,” Paul noted.

“I am happy to work with Senate leadership to schedule time to discuss and vote on this bill soon. Perhaps they can work to correct the fact that this session of the Senate has held the fewest votes in decades, paralyzed by the fear of the majority to do things in the light of day.”

The pipe safety bill (S. 275) was voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee in May, and has been awaiting floor action since then (see NGI, May 9). In the meantime, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have reported out their pipe safety bills (see NGI, Sept. 26, Sept. 12).

If the measure stays stuck in the Senate, the House could move on the legislation first, giving the upper chamber time to put pressure on Paul to lift his hold. The two House committees are expected to reach a compromise bill in the next few weeks.

Pipeline safety legislation has widespread support in both the Senate and House, and was seen as on track to be voted out by Congress this year. Because the House and Senate pipeline safety bills are nearly identical on critical issues and enjoy strong bipartisan support, the odds of the legislation clearing Congress this year were good, said officials with the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) last month (see NGI, Sept. 19). The interstate natural gas pipeline group maintains a positive outlook despite Paul’s hold.

“It’s a bipartisan bill. It passed unanimously in committee, and it has the support of both industry and safety groups,” said INGAA spokeswoman Cathy Landry.

The Senate bill would hike fines for violations of pipeline regulations to $2.5 million from $1 million; add civil penalties for obstructing investigations; and require the federal government to hire new inspection and enforcement personnel through a phased-in approach over the next four years.

It also would require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on new transmission lines and would expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial buildings.

In addition, the bill calls on the Department of Transportation secretary to establish time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state governmental officials, and to determine whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high-consequence areas and establish regulations as appropriate.

©Copyright 2011Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.