House committee passes pipeline safety bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Wednesday to pass a bill to reauthorize the federal government’s safety oversight for hazardous pipelines.

The panel unanimously passed the bipartisan bill, which makes reforms to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) programs in response to several high-profile breaches.

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The bill represents a compromise after Democrats complained at an earlier energy and power subcommittee meeting that the bill was too deferential to the oil and natural gas industry.

Republicans agreed to some of the requested changes, including attempts to add transparency to PHMSA’s regulatory process, which some Democrats think it is too slow and bogged down.

“We’ve tightened provisions allowing PHMSA to issue emergency orders, we’ve included new sections to bring transparency to interagency reviews and the regulatory process, and study ways to protect pipelines from corrosion damage,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. “Additionally, the bill will speed up the completion of overdue safety regulations, tighten standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and increase inspections for some underwater oil pipelines.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the panel, said he was pleased with the changes, though he would have liked it to go farther.

“The legislation before us is a reasonable compromise that makes incremental progress in pipeline safety,” he said.

“The amendment addresses a number of concerns raised by Democratic members during the energy and power subcommittee’s consideration of the bill. It also addresses concerns raised by Republican members during that markup.”

The bill for the first time gives the Department of Transportation authority to issue emergency orders to shut down pipelines, and to issue emergency regulations.

That was one of the largest points of contention in negotiations, since some Republicans wanted more protections for companies whose pipelines get shut down.

“We do have some issues relating to the emergency order. I think we made significant progress there,” said Rep. Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.) “We’re working on checks and balances. But there are still a few changes that need to be made to clarify our intent.”

It also mandates a study on whether pipeline companies’ integrity management plans are sufficient, expands the definition of “high-consequence areas” for regulatory purposes and makes some changes to the way PHMSA makes grants.

The committee made some moves to align its bill with one passed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But there are still some differences that must be hammered out before the bill goes to the House floor.