Pipeline Safety Agency Nominee Wants New Tech, Faster Hiring

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By Sylvia Carignan

A former CSX official would focus on new technology, first responders’ needs, and faster hiring if confirmed as the next director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, he told a Senate panel Sept. 27.

Howard “Skip” Elliott, who has spent four decades in the rail industry, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that he has “seen how much technology has really improved safety and efficiency in that industry.”

“I am interested in exploring how technology can be deployed in other ways to enhance safety on pipelines and other forms of transportation,” Elliot said in his opening statement for the hearing on his nomination.

He also advocated transparency with first responders to improve safety. “I’ve had a long, strong belief that we can never do enough to help improve and enhance the capability of our emergency first responders,” he told the committee.

Elliott served as vice president of public safety, health, and environment at CSX from 2004 until he retired earlier this year. He said he helped develop technology for state emergency management and homeland security officials to help them track CSX trains and quickly identify whether their cargo was hazardous.

“I don’t think that anyone can have a better background than you have,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Elliot.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he hoped to vote “soon” on Elliott’s nomination, although a vote has not been scheduled.

If confirmed, Elliott would take over from acting administrator Drue Pearce, who joined PHMSA in August. Pearce would retain her position as deputy administrator.

Hiring Process, Limiting Rules

In response to a question from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Elliott said he would seek to shorten the hiring process that some federal job candidates have complained is too slow. He wants to aggressively recruit and fill PHMSA’s open positions, he said.

Elliot also said he would address Fischer’s concern that PHMSA’s “mega-rules,” which incorporate multiple related changes in one rule, are leaving stakeholders out of the rulemaking process and don’t foster transparency or fairness.

Prioritizing individual rules could be a solution, he said.

“We have to basically peel back each individual regulation and find those that deliver the greatest safety measures to the public and to the transporting folks in the United States, and work hard to get those regulations in place,” he said.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked Elliott what he would do about leaking natural gas distribution pipelines. The Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, also known as the PIPES Act, requires PHMSA to submit a report to Congress on how better to track and report natural gas that is lost or unaccounted for.

“That natural gas never is received by consumers and yet they’re paying for it,” Markey said.

Markey asked Elliott to commit to resolving the issue, but Elliott said he’d need to know more about it. The nominee said he would “look into this with great haste.”

Industry-Approved

Industry associations strongly back Elliott’s nomination.

“Elliott’s distinguished history in the railroad industry combined with his experience with hazardous materials will benefit all propane stakeholders,” a spokesperson for the National Propane Gas Association told Bloomberg BNA in a statement.

Michael Tadeo, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said Elliott’s experience with rail “is an asset to the agency and its mission.” The institute represents companies such as ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp., and Statoil.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America also advocated for Elliott’s swift confirmation. The association represents companies such as Enbridge Inc., Piedmont Natural Gas, and Con Edison.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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