October 2019, Vol. 246, No. 10


Senate Pipeline Bill Differs from House Bill

The Senate and House appear to be on a bit of a collision course with regard to reauthorization of the pipeline safety program at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Key committees in each of the two houses of Congress have passed bills that have different provisions and share only a few provisions.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed its bill, called the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2019 (S. 2299), on July 31, following action in June by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which passed its bill, the Safer Pipelines Act of 2019 (H.R. 3432), June 26 by a voice vote.

The Senate bill is particularly mild compared to the House bill and contains few new safety dictates on pipelines, with the exception of an amendment from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) which addresses shortcomings of distribution line safety exposed by the Merrimack Valley accident in Massachusetts in 2018.

Markey’s Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act requires PHMSA to promulgate regulations two years after passage of the bill to “ensure that each distribution integrity management plan developed by an operator of a distribution system includes an evaluation of the risks resulting from the presence of cast iron pipes and mains in the distribution system and the risks that could lead to or result from the operation of a low-pressure distribution system at a pressure that makes the operation of any connected and properly adjusted low-pressure gas burning equipment unsafe.” The House bill omits that provision.

Otherwise, the Senate committee declined to include amendments the interstate pipeline industry would likely oppose. Attempts by Democratic senators to “toughen” the bill by requiring methane leak detection measures from pipelines and enhanced protection for industry whistleblowers were rejected by the committee, which approved the overall bill with only one dissent, that from Sen. Udall (D-N.M.).

One major difference between the House and Senate bills is that the latter gives the industry something it has been requesting: the ability to test new safety technologies without having to go through a long, laborious approval process with the PHMSA. P&GJ

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