Week Ending August 2, 2019

Senate Panel Passes Pipeline Safety Bill; Effort to Amend Jones Act Defeated

This Article Appears as Published in Foster Report No 3260
Senate Panel Passes Pipeline Safety Bill; Effort to Amend Jones Act Defeated

A Senate committee passed bipartisan pipeline safety legislation July 31, with members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee praising those who shepherded the measure to approval.

Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the chairman and ranking member on the Transportation and Safety Subcommittee, respectively, were commended for including amendments and gaining support for the bill (S. 2299).

The Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2019 reauthorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and includes provisions for new pipeline safety technologies, Fischer and Duckworth said during the bill’s markup. Duckworth aims to have PHMSA inform Congress on a regulator basis about any progress for various rulemaking proceedings that are overdue, and Fischer is aiming to get the measure considered by the full Senate in the near future.

The Committee also approved the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2019 (S. 2297) with several amendments. One of the amendments that did not pass was offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to allow exemptions to the Jones Act, which limits maritime shipping of goods within the U.S. to vessels with U.S. crews and U.S. flags. Lee commented that exemptions to the law are needed, referring to LNG from Russia being imported into New England in 2018 and noting that of the 478 vessels globally that are capable of carrying LNG, none are compliant with the Jones Act to allow deliveries within the U.S.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the full committee, was among those who spoke against the Lee amendment, stating that there already is a waiver process for the Jones Act, and the measure would put authority to grant such a waiver with a member of the President’s cabinet instead of with Congress. The amendment is “an end run around the Congress and in my view would undermine the statute,” Wicker said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) also spoke against the amendment, noting that the import of Russian LNG was the result of Massachusetts’ effort to limit use of pipelines to send natural gas to different markets.

Wicker said passage of the pipeline safety bill included months of hard work and some skillful legislating among Republicans and Democrats.

The markup of the bill included consideration of several amendments by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to increase oversight of gathering lines of six inches in diameter or larger, require mapping of such gathering lines and address methane emissions by requiring pipelines to repair leaks. He withdrew the methane leak amendment and voted no on the overall bill.

“I respect and appreciate the Commerce Committee’s work so far, but we cannot turn a blind eye to 435,000 miles of unregulated gas gathering pipelines, especially when we don’t even know how close they are to our homes, families, and communities,” Udall said.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) expressed appreciation for the work of Fischer and Duckworth to allow the bill to be improved, including measures that he crafted to prevent a recurrence of the explosions that leveled several buildings and killed one person in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.

The incident damaged 131 structures and destroyed homes, with the initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board finding that the distribution lines of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., were overpressurized and that Columbia Gas used a field engineer with limited knowledge of pressure sensing and monitoring.  Passage of the legislation by the committee begins the process of ensuring that such a tragedy does not happen again, Markey said.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) praised the committee’s passage of the pipeline safety bill. “INGAA appreciates the Committee’s bipartisan efforts to advance the PIPES Act of 2019, which will strengthen our nation’s pipeline safety regulator. We encourage Congress to move forward with a timely reauthorization of PHMSA’s pipeline safety program,” a spokeswoman for INGAA said.

Pipeline safety legislation in the House of Representatives has to go through a couple different committees to gain approval. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have held hearings on pipeline safety issues and heard from witnesses, including PHMSA Administrator Howard “Skip” Elliott and officials from the pipeline industry.

The Senate legislation provides a four-year authorization of PHMSA’s safety program, with more resources allocated to state and local pipeline safety officials, according to a summary of the measure by the Commerce Committee. It provides greater Congressional oversight of PHMSA rulemakings and allows the agency to conduct pilot programs to assess new pipeline safety technologies.

In addition, the legislation directs PHMSA to update its regulations for large-scale LNG facilities and establishes an LNG Center of Excellence to promote safety, education, training and technology advancements in LNG operations.

The American Gas Association (AGA) praised committee members and the collaboration that took place to pass the measure. “The goal of this legislation is to provide the industry with the rules and tools we need to continue to enhance the safety of the natural gas delivery system and the Senate Commerce Committee took another positive step in that direction today,” said AGA President and CEO Karen Harbert.

By Tom Tiernan ttiernan@fosterreport.com


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