Pipeline spill plans should be public
We appreciate the spirit behind the bills introduced by Reps. Tristan Cole and Lee Chatfield banning anchoring in the straits area to keep the pipelines running through there from dents, but are concerned with the secrecy they are including in their bills.
Chatfield, R-Levering, Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, and Cole, R-Mancelona, introduced the four bills recently, which, in part, would codify an emergency rule from Governor Rick Snyder put in place last month officially barring anchors in the Straits.
At that time, Chatfield released a statement saying that rule should be permanent. The decision was unpopular among environmental groups, who argued that the ruling did not address the real problem, which was the tandem underwater pipeline itself.
Under the new rules, a first offense for illegally deploying, dragging or setting an anchor in the straits could result in imprisonment of up to two years, a $10,000 fine or both.
On a second offense, the potential penalty bumps up to five years in prison and $15,000.
But the problem with these plans comes in relation to the requirements that the owners of the pipelines file spill prevention and contingency plans with the Department of Environmental Quality every five years. Those plans would require that the companies document their plans for various-sized spills, describe their maintenance inspection process and provide records of past inspections, as well as describe all of their spill prevention technology.
They would also require that they document their compliance with the Oil Pollution Act and Financial Responsibility Requirements and proper training procedures for employees at various levels. Both of those reports would require a $12,500 review fee, however, that review would mostly just be to insure that all of the requirements are included. The bill specifies that approval from the DEQ does not necessarily equate to a statement on the efficacy of the plans.
If the DEQ denies the plan, the company would have 30 days to re-file. If not filed, the penalty would be $1,000 for every day that each of the plans are past due.
Sounds good, so far, right? But, here is the rub, the plans are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
That means the public has no right to see these plans and no outside organizations or citizens can confirm these pipeline companies are complying with the law or what they are planning, leaving us to take the word of government bureaucrats in the state. These are the same sort of bureaucrats that brought you the Flint water crisis.
We think these documents should be open to the public. It is of high public and economic safety that these plans are in the sunlight of public inspection.
To hide something as important as this from the public is wrong.
— Petoskey News-Review