Senate approves pipeline safety bill

The Senate unanimously approved legislation to boost oil-and-gas pipeline safety standards Monday night after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ended his hold on the bill.

The passage follows a slew of oil and natural-gas pipeline accidents in recent years, including a fatal gas line explosion in San Bruno, Calif., last year that killed eight people.

The bill approved Monday night boosts penalties for violating pipeline safety rules, requires automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on new lines, and authorizes increased numbers of inspectors, among many other provisions.

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It includes new records verification and reporting requirements for natural-gas transmission lines to help prevent exceedance of maximum pressures, and requires timely notification for regulators of exceedances.

“This bill strengthens oversight and addresses longstanding safety issues that leave the public vulnerable to catastrophic pipeline accidents,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the bill’s lead sponsor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the measure would address gaps in pipeline safety oversight laid bare by last year’s San Bruno explosion.

“In San Bruno, utility officials didn’t even know what type of pipe was underground, and that is inexcusable. This legislation includes long-overdue safeguards such as verifying pipeline records, establishing maximum operating pressure and allowing inspections and penalties to ensure that the law is followed. Aging infrastructure demands proper regulation to save lives, and that’s the path on which this bill sets us,” she said in a statement Monday.

Similar legislation is moving through the House, and unanimously cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee last month.

Paul lifted his hold Monday after senators agreed to attach language that mandates testing of certain previously untested gas transmission lines to ensure they’re operating at safe pressures.

He had argued that the bill as initially written didn’t adequately tackle key problems that led to the San Bruno accident.

“While I am in favor of as little regulation as necessary, if we are going to impose regulations, we should do it right,” Paul said in a statement Monday.

The bill drew cheers from industry groups.

“Pipeline safety is a non-partisan issue, as it impacts every senator’s state and constituents. A unanimous endorsement of this particular bill puts us one step closer to reaching our ultimate goal, which is getting a final bill passed and on the desk for President Obama’s signature this year,” said American Gas Association President Dave McCurdy in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times notes, however, that the measure does not include a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which probed the San Bruno blast, to require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas.

That proposal has faced industry opposition, according to the Times.

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