Legislation that would create heftier penalties for unsafe pipeline operation and new requirements for gas and hazardous liquid pipelines made its way out of the House Energy committee on the strength of the Democratic majority Nov. 19.
The bill proposes to reauthorize funding for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration through 2023.
At a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup session on the bill, the committee’s Democratic majority struck down multiple amendments from Republican members. The committee approved the bill 30 to 21, strictly along party lines.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will have its own session on the bill Nov. 20. Republicans on that committee released their own version of a reauthorization (H.R. 5175) on Nov. 19.
The GOP bill emphasizes more flexibility for the agency’s research and development programs, as well as a technology pilot program to test innovative devices and practices.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) on Nov. 15 introduced the yet-unnumbered bill, known as the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Environmentally Responsible Pipelines Act of 2019, after legislators failed to come to an agreement on a previous version, H.R. 3432.
Committee ranking Republican Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Energy Subcommittee Republican leader Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) issued a news release calling the bill partisan and “loaded with unworkable policy.”
Republican committee members argued the bill encourages a “sue and settle” system for citizens to call PHMSA out when they see violations. Democrats saw the provision as enabling citizen suits.
“Citizens should be able to get a court order to get the agency to do its duties as required by law,” Pallone said.
DeFazio said he remains hopeful that many of the provisions in the bill can make it into law. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved its bill to reauthorize the agency (S.2299) July 31 over the objections of Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who had sought to add tougher environmental protection provisions.
“We’re going to bring over a very strong package and, you know, they’ll have to negotiate with us,” DeFazio said.
The agency would receive $237 million in fiscal 2020, ramping up to $256 million in fiscal 2023. As part of that, the agency’s largest program, gas and hazardous liquid pipeline safety, would receive $160.8 million in fiscal 2020, increasing to $175.7 million in fiscal 2023.
The agency’s funding authorization expired at the end of September. Its programs are operating under a continuing resolution.
The Nov. 15 bill doesn’t significantly alter funding amounts, as compared to H.R. 3432. But, it requires PHMSA to create a new regulation for operators to install automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves for gas and hazardous liquid pipelines in high-risk areas, such as densely populated communities or sensitive environmental habitats.
The bill also would increase the maximum civil penalties for single violations to $20 million, to be used as a tool for PHMSA to hold operators accountable for especially severe violations. The existing upper limit for a single violation is $200,000, while the limit for a series of related violations is $2 million.
—With assistance from Tiffany Stecker.