The Senate yesterday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) introduced with Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (R-MT) to reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019, and improve pipeline safety and oversight.
The legislation, entitled the Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (SAFE PIPES) Act, includes several pipeline safety provisions from the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills (PIPS) Act that Peters introduced in September, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow.
“An oil spill in the Great Lakes would be catastrophic – not only for Michigan’s economy and environment but for the 40 million people that rely on the Lakes as their source for clean drinking water,” said Senator Peters, member of the Great Lakes Task Force. “I’m pleased that the Senate passed this critical legislation with unanimous bipartisan support, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to get this bill signed into law so that we can advance safety standards, improve ice cover response plans, and better protect against the devastating impacts an oil spill would have on our waterways and our way of life.”
“Families in Michigan know all too well how devastating oil spills can be to our waterways,” said Senator Stabenow, co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. “Given what’s at stake, we need to do everything possible to prevent a spill from happening in our Great Lakes. This legislation gives the State of Michigan additional information needed to provide critical oversight and protections, and I applaud Senator Peters for leading the effort to pass our bipartisan pipeline safety provisions in the Senate.”
The SAFE PIPES Act includes several provisions and elements from Peters’ original pipeline legislation that will help ensure the Great Lakes and other water resources in Michigan and across the country are protected from the threat of pipeline spills:
- Great Lakes are designated as a high consequence area. The SAFE PIPES Act designates the Great Lakes as an Unusually Sensitive Area, making pipelines in the Great Lakes subject to higher standards for operating safely.
- Improves oil spill response plans to address ice cover. The bill requires PHMSA and pipeline operators to consider response plans that address cleanup of an oil spill affecting waters or shorelines partially or entirely covered by ice. During the past two winters, maximum ice coverage in the Great Lakes has been well above normal levels. The Coast Guard has stated it does not have the technology or capacity for worst-case discharge cleanup under solid ice, and that its response activities are not adequate in ice-choked waters.
- Requires critical reviews of pipeline age and integrity. The legislation requires Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on pipeline integrity management of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, and a review of the risks posed by age, condition, materials and construction of a pipeline. These reports will help State and Federal regulators conduct better oversight of pipelines and recommend changes to ensure that pipelines are operating safely and securely. Many elements were based on provisions from the PIPS Act introduced by Peters and Stabenow earlier this year.
The legislation, which was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in December, increases the authorized funding levels for PHMSA by 2% annually over four years to ensure the agency has sufficient resources to conduct pipeline oversight.
The bill also contains provisions to streamline the hiring process for PHMSA pipeline inspectors for one year to expedite hiring of qualified candidates for understaffed critical positions.
The legislation includes additional measures to improve the storage of hazardous materials, including directing the Department of Transportation to issue minimum safety standards for the operation and integrity management of underground natural gas storage facilities and a provision to promote mapping technology to help prevent accidental pipeline damage during underground excavations.
It also includes a research and development section that encourages collaboration on research, development and technology between federal agencies, public stakeholders and industry leaders.
Senator Peters has been a strong supporter of enhancing pipeline safety to protect the Great Lakes.
This year, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coast Guard Authorization Act, which contained a provision from Senator Peters that would require the Coast Guard to work with partner agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct an assessment on the effectiveness of oil spill response activities in the Great Lakes.