House Approves Pipeline Safety Bill with Senate Action on Tap

The Senate appears poised to follow the House lead and pass a pipeline safety bill this week that would boost regulation of the sort of low-stress oil pipeline that caused problems in BP's Prudhoe Bay field earlier this year.

The bipartisan bill passed easily in the House yesterday by voice vote. It now awaits Senate approval after lawmakers from both sides of the Hill with jurisdiction agreed to consensus language on reauthorizing the federal pipeline safety law.

The Senate will try and clear the bill under unanimous consent this week, a Senate GOP leadership aide said yesterday. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, yesterday said he expects the bill to be enacted in the lame duck.

"I think it is ready to go," Stevens said before yesterday's House vote. "All the holds have been removed, to the best of my knowledge."

The bill would generally subject low-stress oil pipelines to the same federal standards as high-stress lines. Rural low-stress lines are currently exempt from federal regulation in many cases. Pressure to require better cleaning and inspection mounted following spills in Prudhoe Bay due to undiscovered corrosion.

The bill goes further than a proposed Bush administration rulemaking that would regulate low-stress lines in "unusually sensitive" areas -- a standard critics said would leave far too much of the nation's network of these lines without oversight.

The bill also aims to strengthen state programs, through grants and penalties for violators, to prevent construction-related accidents to natural gas distribution lines.

Serious incidents caused by third-party excavators hitting utility lines have more than doubled over the last four years, according to the American Gas Association. The group supports the bill and urged its final passage yesterday.

The bill also includes an "enforcement transparency" section that requires the Transportation Department to provide a monthly updated summary to the public of all gas and hazardous liquid pipeline enforcement actions.

Other safety provisions include required installation of excess flow valves on new or "entirely replaced" natural gas service lines that serve single-family homes.

"These new provisions will help strengthen that portion of the gas pipeline system that is closest to most American homes," said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee next year, in a statement yesterday.

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