Senate supports Peters’ pipeline safety bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is applauding unanimous passage in the Senate of the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act to improve pipeline safety and oversight.

Peters introduced the Senate version of the bipartisan legislation with Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (R-MT). The legislation unanimously passed the House of Representatives last week and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“The Great Lakes play a central role in our state’s economy, environment, and way of life,” said Peters, member of the Great Lakes Task Force. “We must ensure that the proper safety and oversight is in place to keep our people safe and our natural resources protected. I’m very pleased that this bill is on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law and help safeguard against the catastrophic consequences of an oil spill in our precious waterways.”

The PIPES Act includes several provisions and elements authored by Peters that are aimed to 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 PIPES Act designates the Great Lakes as an Unusually Sensitive Area, making pipelines in the Great Lakes subject to higher standards for operating safely. The bill also adds coastal beaches and marine coastal waters as areas that should be considered when making an “Unusually Sensitive” determination.

– Improves oil spill response plans to address ice cover. The bill requires PHMSA and pipeline operators to prepare response plans that address cleanup of an oil spill affecting waters or shorelines partially or entirely covered by ice. In recent 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, reauthorizes PHMSA through 2019 and increases the authorized funding levels by 2 percent annually to support critical safety and oversight activities. The bill also establishes emergency order authority so that PHMSA can take action to ensure safety when pipelines pose an imminent threat.

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.