Senate approves pipeline safety bill

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The Senate has approved a bill overhauling federal energy pipeline rules and reauthorizing the main agency overseeing pipeline safety in a vote Thursday.

The legislation, from a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Deb FischerDeb FischerRemembering small business during the presidential election Overnight Healthcare: Health mergers in trouble? | Norovirus in Cleveland | GOP chairman rejects Trump Medicare pricing plan Reluctant lobbyists descend on Cleveland MORE (R-Neb.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reauthorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019 and takes new steps to cut down on spills and other problems with the American pipeline network. 

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The Senate approved the bill on a unanimous cosent Thursday evening. 

"Every day across America, resources vital to our nation’s energy and economic security move through more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline," Fischer said in a statement. 
 
"For families, consumers, workers, and businesses across our nation, the safety and security of our extensive pipeline network must remain a top priority. The bill we passed today will enhance the safety of these pipelines through stronger congressional oversight and necessary improvements to PHMSA."
 
Beyond reauthorizing PHMSA, the bill will direct the agency to prioritize its current regulatory agenda over new rulemaking. It calls for new mapping technology and safety programs for pipelines and gives the agency new hiring powers. 
 
California’s two senators signed on as sponsors a few weeks ago when lawmakers included in the bill a working group to address a methane leak at a natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, Calif. The group will report to Congress and recommend policies to keep similar leaks from happening again. 
 
Lawmakers have criticized PHMSA for its slow regulatory process. Of the 42 rules mandated in a major 2011 pipeline safety law, the agency has only completed 26.
 
Lawmakers looked to write a PHMSA reauthorization bill that gives the agency the flexibility to complete those outstanding regulations before focusing on other issues. 
 
“Work on this reauthorization needs to make sure that PHMSA can stay focused on closing out the 2011 act,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the chairman of the Transportation Committee, said in February.
 
Two House committees probed federal pipeline rules within the last two weeks. The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of members’ proposed legislation on Tuesday. 

“We cannot achieve the intended objectives of the Pipeline Safety Act until it has been fully implemented,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, referring to the 2011 law.