Industry Groups Expect Long Wait for Pipeline Safety Chief

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Sylvia Carignan

Industry groups aren’t holding their breath as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration waits for a presidentially nominated chief.The agency has traditionally had vacancies for more than 300 days between administrators. With a few exceptions, industry groups think the agency’s core functions are running smoothly under acting leadership.

“Generally speaking, PHMSA is doing a good job on its core safety and auditing function, despite its lack of a new administrator,” Cathy Landry, spokesperson for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, told Bloomberg BNA.

But, she said, the association hopes an administrator is nominated soon to help speed up the agency’s progress on a proposed “mega rule” regarding safety of gas transmission pipelines.

The public comment period for the proposed rule was extended, then closed July 2016. A final rule has not yet been issued.

The administrator vacancy is “certainly not the main reason behind the delay, but it’s not helping matters,” Landry said in an email.

The American Petroleum Institute has been less patient, according to Mike Tadeo, a spokesperson for the industry association. It urges President Donald Trump to nominate a PHMSA chief in order to move forward with energy infrastructure, Tadeo told Bloomberg BNA.

“With good leadership in place, the agency can develop a workforce that is not only suitably staffed but also properly trained and qualified to carry out their mandates,” he said in an email.

History of Delays

The agency’s first permanent administrator, Thomas Barrett, was sworn in nearly 500 days after President George W. Bush took office. Since PHMSA was created in 2004, vacancies of over 300 days have occurred between agency administrators’ terms.

The current delay seems to be in line with Trump’s nomination pace for agency heads, Paul Rankin, president of the Reusable Industrial Packaging Association, told Bloomberg BNA.

“This is no surprise,” he said. “This is not to say the other administrators’ positions are being filled quickly. It’s certainly not a surprise to PHMSA.”

More urgent matters, such as approvals for exceptions to pipeline safety or hazardous material transport regulations, have been moving along at an adequate pace, he said.

PHMSA has been slow to move on pending regulations, but that may be caused by the executive order asking agencies to drop two regulations for every new one, Rankin said.

“They’re not putting out many regulations, but neither is anyone,” he said.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) also didn’t express any outward concern about the delay in a May 17 statement to Bloomberg BNA.

“Senator Thune is aware of active efforts by the administration to put forward a nominee,” Thune’s office said in the statement. “In his role as chairman of the Commerce Committee, he looks forward to confirming a qualified candidate as soon as possible.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Environment & Energy Report