House Committees Compromise on Bill Authorizing Federal Pipeline Safety Programs

Key Development: House Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce Committees release compromise bill.

Potential Impact: Bill would impose steep fines on operators who obstruct accident investigations, mandate shutoff valves for gas transmission lines, and require study of integrity management rules.

What's Next: The House is scheduled to take up the bill Dec. 12 under a suspension of rules, which would allow immediate passage.

By Amena H. Saiyid

The House Transportation and Infrastructure and Energy and Commerce committees reached agreement Dec. 8 on a bill (H.R. 2845) that would reauthorize federal pipeline safety programs, with tougher penalties for violators.

The agreement resolved differing approaches by the committees to regulate pipeline safety that had threatened to stall the legislation. The committees' approval clears the bill for House floor action.

In addition to authorizing higher penalties, the bill would require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to promulgate rules mandating the use of remote-controlled or automatic shutoff valves in all new or entirely replaced gas transmission lines two years after the bill's enactment.

It also would allow Secretary of Transportation to promulgate rules three years on integrity management for gas transmission lines only after it has conducted a study to evaluate whether the existing programs are needed beyond high consequence areas, or areas with high populations. The study would begin no later than 18 months after the bill is enacted into law.

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainly, and Job Creation Act of 2011 also would authorize funding for PHMSA, the agency that oversees more than 2.3 million miles of pipeline that transport natural gas and hazardous liquids, including petroleum.

Two House Bills.

The new text of H.R. 2845 reflects the agreement reached among Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (D-Mich.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), and the committees' ranking Democrats.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has secondary jurisdiction over pipeline safety programs, had passed its own version of pipeline safety programs in H.R. 2837, but had deferred to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over these programs.

The Senate already has adopted its own pipeline safety bill, the Pipeline Transportation Safety Act of 2011 (S. 275).

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, told BNA that H.R. 2845 reflects a compromise between the two committees.

He said the bill would be taken up Monday, Dec. 12, under a suspension of rules.

Senate Awaits House Action.

Shuster said House leadership had received word from the Senate that the bill would be taken up under unanimous consent, following the expected passage of the bill in the House.

Like its Senate counterpart, the new version of H.R. 2845 would authorize a fine of up to $200,000 for single violations and up to $2 million for a series of violations stemming from obstruction of investigation of pipeline accidents. The maximum civil penalty would not apply to other enforcement actions, according to the bill.

The bill would require a study of biofuels and a study of the effect of diluted bitumen, a component of oil sands, on pipelines. It also would require the Transportation Secretary to promulgate regulations, following a study to be submitted to Congress, that would subject offshore hazardous liquid gathering lines and hazardous liquid gathering lines within the inlets of the Gulf of Mexico to the same standards and regulations as other hazardous liquid lines.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of American welcomed the “bipartisan bicamercal” agreement on pipeline safety legislation.

Martin Edwards, INGAA's legislative director, said he expects pipeline safety legislation to be enacted this year.

By Amena H. Saiyid

The compromise text of H.R. 2845 is available at