Barletta Amendment Passes to Preserve PA Pipeline Inspection Interests
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) today succeeded in amending pipeline safety legislation to protect the interests of states in using their own pipeline inspectors when dealing with federal agencies. Barletta’s amendment was incorporated into H.R. 4937, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act, which was approved during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Barletta is a member. The PIPES Act now heads to the floor of the full House of Representatives for its consideration.
The Barletta amendment involves the use of interstate agent agreements between states and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which regulates the safety of pipelines at the federal level. The agency is responsible for ensuring safety in the design, construction, testing, operation, and maintenance of pipelines. It is more beneficial for states to be able to use their own networks of pipeline inspectors, since PHMSA has only five regional offices to serve the entire country. Many states, including Pennsylvania, want to be able to leverage their own resources to protect pipeline safety, which requires interstate agent agreements with PHMSA.
“I understand that the federal government has been hesitant to move forward with any new agreements,” Barletta said. “For example, in Pennsylvania, our state’s Public Utility Commission attempted to arrange an interstate agent agreement. To me, this makes sense. However, federal regulators have repeatedly blocked these state attempts without providing a clear explanation why Pennsylvania is ineligible for an agreement.”
Barletta’s amendment will:
- Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study interstate agent agreements to examine their benefits.
- Require an explanation from PHMSA if the agency denies a state’s request for an interstate agreement.
Pennsylvania is home to thousands of miles of pipeline, with many more thousands of miles needing to be built to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas. In total, the United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, with some 2.6 million miles of pipelines transporting 64 percent of the energy commodities used in the country.
The overall PIPES Act:
Improves safety by closing gaps in federal standards
- Requires PHMSA to set federal minimum safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and allows states to go above those standards for intrastate facilities.
- Authorizes emergency order authority that is tailored to the pipeline sector, taking into account public health and safety, network, and customer impacts.
- Ensures that pipeline operators receive timely post-inspection information from PHMSA to allow them to maintain and improve their safety efforts, and ensures that product composition information is quickly provided to first responders after an incident.
Enhances the quality and timeliness of PHMSA rulemakings
- Requires PHMSA to update Congress every 60 days on outstanding statutory mandates, including the status of each mandate, reasons for its incompletion, and estimated completion date.
- Requests two GAO studies on the effectiveness of integrity management programs for both natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.
Promotes better use of data and technology to improve pipeline safety
- Tasks GAO with investigating how to use technology to improve third-party damage prevention (a leading cause of releases).
- Requires GAO to study the latest innovations in pipeline materials and corrosion prevention technology.
- Creates a working group of PHMSA, states, industry stakeholders, and safety groups to develop recommendations on how to create an information sharing system to improve safety outcomes.
- Authorizes PHMSA to create a national integrated pipeline safety database to have a clearer picture of federal and state safety oversight efforts.