By Patrick Ambrosio
The House Dec. 12 unanimously approved legislation (H.R. 2845) that would reauthorize federal pipeline safety programs through fiscal year 2015.
The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act, which the House passed by a voice vote under suspension of the rules, authorizes funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the agency that oversees safety programs for the nation's natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous liquid pipelines.
The legislation also contains provisions that would increase the maximum penalty for violations and require PHMSA to issue rules within two years of the bill's enactment that would mandate the use of remote-controlled or automatic shutoff valves in all new or entirely replaced gas transmission lines.
“This important legislation improves safety, enhances reliability, and provides the regulatory certainty necessary to create jobs,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, said during a Dec. 12 speech on the House floor.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee released the compromise legislation Dec. 8 after reconciling the differences between competing proposals approved by each committee (237 DEN A-15, 12/9/11).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said during a Dec. 12 floor speech that the proposal “reflects consensus across party lines.”
The compromise bill would require the Department of Transportation to conduct a study to evaluate whether integrity management programs for gas transmission lines are needed beyond high-consequence areas. The secretary of transportation would not be allowed to promulgate any rules regarding integrity management requirements until one year after a report on the results of the study is submitted to Congress.
“This approach preserves congressional authority and will keep regulators from overreaching,” Shuster said.
The Senate is likely to take up the House-passed version of the pipeline safety bill before the end of the week, a Senate Democratic aide told BNA Dec. 12.
The aide said that there was support in the Senate for the bill, which he described as a “pretty good” reflection of a bipartisan agreement between the House and the Senate.
Shuster told BNA Dec. 8 that House leadership had been informed by the Senate that the bill would be taken up in the Senate under unanimous consent following its expected House passage.
The Senate passed its version of a pipeline safety reauthorization bill (S. 275) unanimously on Oct. 17.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would double the maximum allowable penalties for violations, with fines of up to $200,000 for single violations and $2 million for a series of violations. Both bills also would authorize the Department of Transportation to impose penalties on any operator who obstructs or prevents inspections or investigations.
Both versions of the bill also contain a provision to prevent state “One-Call” notification centers from exempting municipalities, state agencies, or government contractors from notification requirements prior to digging. “One-Call” centers allow excavators to notify multiple utilities of their plans, giving utilities the opportunity to mark underground facilities to avoid damage during the project.
Donald Santa, president and chief executive officer of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, commended the House for working out a compromise and unanimously approving the pipeline safety bill.
“We believe these congressional efforts will result in a safer, more reliable pipeline system nationwide,” Santa said in a Dec. 12 statement following House passage. “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.”
Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, also expressed support for passage of the House version in a Dec. 9 written statement, though he expressed concern that the legislation did not include all of the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Weimer wrote that the legislation ignores “many of the lessons that should have been learned” from recent accidents in San Bruno, Calif., Kalamazoo, Mich., and Allentown, Pa., but the benefits of enacting the pipeline safety bill “clearly outweigh the concerns.” He called on the secretary of transportation and PHMSA to meet the deadlines for completing studies established in the bill and urged them to issue “strong rules” to improve pipeline safety.
“The possibility of success is clearly contained in this bill, but only if all sides truly want to move pipeline safety forward,” Weimer wrote.
Text of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 is available at http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Railroads/HR2845-2011-12-08.pdf.
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