Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Senate passes pipeline safety bill after Rand Paul drops opposition

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill on Oct. 17 updating pipeline-safety regulations and increasing fines that federal regulators can impose on violators.

The bill follows recent natural-gas pipeline explosions, including an incident that killed eight people in northern California last year.

The bill is supported by the industry’s major trade associations - the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association and the Association of Oil Pipelines - as well as by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group.

A similar measure won unanimous approval from the House Energy Committee last month and is awaiting a vote by the full House.

The bill requires that older pipes operating at high pressures be tested in an effort to incorporate the recommendations of investigators who looked into the explosion on Sept. 9, 2010, in San Bruno, Calif.

Under the bill, federal regulators could order that automatic shutoff valves be installed on new pipelines so leaks can be halted sooner. And it directs regulators to determine whether mandatory inspections of aging pipelines in densely populated areas should be expanded to include lines in rural areas. It would be paid for by industry fees.

It also authorizes federal regulators to hire more pipeline inspectors and allows fines of up to $250,000 for "major consequence" violations and a maximum of $2.5 million for a series of major violations.

The legislation cleared the Senate after Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) lifted his objections to the bill, allowing it to go forward with the unanimous consent of the Senate. Paul said in a statement that he had dropped his opposition because the bill’s sponsors had agreed to incorporate an amendment regarding safety testing of older pipelines.

Paul, a tea party ally and anti-tax activist, was elected to the Senate last year in part on the strength of his opposition to new federal regulations.

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