US Senate panel passes pipeline safety reauthorization bill

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 6 -- The US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed a pipeline safety bill by voice vote on May 5 and referred the measure to the Senate floor for final approval. S. 275 was originally introduced by the committee’s chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and its Surface Transportation Subcommittee chairman, Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Officials of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, Interstate Natural Gas Association, and American Gas Association applauded the committee’s action. “Democrat and Republican lawmakers worked across party lines to address a number of key issues, and they all deserve credit for passing this important legislation and presenting the full Senate with the opportunity to do the same,” AGA Pres. Dave McCurdy said.

The bill would update and improve federal pipeline safety policy in several areas, including integrity management and damage prevention, according to INGAA Pres. Donald F. Santa. “Combined with regulatory initiatives that the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is expected to launch and the initiatives INGAA is undertaking through our board-level pipeline safety taskforce efforts, we believe the result will be a safer pipeline system nationwide,” he said.

AOPL Pres. Andrew J. Black said S. 275’s provision that state one-call notification programs may not exempt municipalities, state agencies, or their contractors was particularly important. “We encourage Congress and PHMSA to remove additional exemptions for mechanized excavation in order to eliminate the safety gap that these exemptions cause,” he said. “A pipeline does not care whose backhoe hits it.”

Black said AOPL also approves of the committee’s adopting an amendment by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) which AOPL believes would improve due process protections for pipelines that commonly are found across other federal regulatory agencies.

“As Congress considers proposals to increase maximum civil penalties by 150%, and as PHMSA further exercises its enforcement authority, it is time to update the procedural rules PHMSA must follow when using its enforcement authority,” he said. “The Thune amendment is a good start toward implementing basic procedural reforms and greater transparency in the decision-making process.”

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