Energy and Commerce Panel to Mark Up Pipeline Safety Bill Tomorrow

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will meet tomorrow to mark up pipeline safety legislation to address "low stress" lines like the systems that have caused problems in BP's Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska.

The committee will mark up H.R. 5782, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2006, which reauthorizes pipeline safety statutes. A version of the bill cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee over the summer.

But the energy committee's chair and ranking member -- Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) -- will offer a bipartisan substitute to that text, an aide said. A key issue is how the new text will regulate low-stress lines that are now often exempt from federal oversight. The language the committee plans to introduce was not available yesterday.

The issue is receiving increased attention following corrosion that has curbed production from Prudhoe Bay, the country's biggest oil field.

The bill that cleared the transportation committee calls for regulation of rural low-stress lines in "unusually sensitive" areas. This is also the standard that the Bush administration's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration applied in a recent proposed rule for regulating rural low-stress lines, which would capture the low-stress lines in Prudhoe Bay.

But the administration proposal has come under criticism from lawmakers, including Dingell, who say it is not robust enough. Some Democrats and safety advocates have argued the rule does not cover nearly enough of the nation's network of low-stress lines and does not impose sufficiently strict inspection standards.

It is not clear whether new pipeline safety legislation will become law this year. A Senate companion bill -- which would fall under the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce Committee -- has not yet been introduced.

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