Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pipeline Security Amendment Defeated

I did not pay much attention to HR 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, when it came up for consideration this last week. While it is a pipeline act (it us the latest House effort to get the Keystone Pipeline route across the border into Canada – hence the ‘Northern Route’ – approved) it seemed to me to be more about politics and jobs than safety or security. Oops, I was wrong.

Anti-Terrorist Security Certification

I came across this yesterday when I was looking for something in Wednesday’s Congressional Record Daily Digest in the discussion about the floor action associated with the passage of HR 3:

“Connolly [D,VA] amendment (No. 4 printed in H. Rept. 113–88) that sought to require a threat assessment of pipeline vulnerabilities to terrorist attack and corrective actions necessary to protect the pipeline from such an attack and to mitigate any resulting spill (by a recorded vote of 176 ayes to 239 noes, Roll No. 172)” (pg D488)

Well, I went back and found H. Rept. 113-88 and read the meat of Amendment #4, the Connolly Amendment; it would be added as §3(b):

“THREAT ASSESSMENT.—Subsection (a) [Existing §3] shall not apply until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, conducts a study of the vulnerabilities of the pipeline to terrorist attack and certifies that the necessary protections have been put in place so that the pipeline would withstand such an attack and a spill resulting from such an attack.”

This doesn’t seem like an unsound or unreasonable stipulation to add to the Keystone Pipeline approval bill. After all, there have been terrorist attacks on pipelines in Canada (See Here and Here). Okay, they were apparently local ‘terror’ attacks in protest of local ‘sour gas’ production, but they were terror attacks. But, in any case, the Keystone Pipeline would have to be considered a potential target of environmental wacos or jihadist wacos; so security will certainly be a legitimate concern.

Republican Opposition

The Republican response, delivered by Rep. Schuster (R,PA) simply noted that:

“My good friend from Virginia, I understand his need to make sure that our pipelines are safe, but this amendment is redundant of existing Transportation Security Administration guidelines. It’s unnecessary and simply attempts to further delay the project.” (CR 5-22-13; pg 2879)

Of course stopping the delays of the pipeline approval and construction process was the whole point of this bill so it is understandable why the amendment failed on a recorded vote of 176 – 222 on a mainly party-line vote.

Voluntary TSA Program

Of course, Schuster was wrong, the amendment is not really duplicative of existing programs since it would have required PHMSA (it probably should have been TSA) to certify “that the necessary protections have been put in place”. TSA certainly does have a pipeline security program in place, but it is completely voluntary. I have heard reports that the TSA program is fairly effective, but there is no real data to support or dispute that since there are no public measures of how many facilities participate (or not) or how many facilities comply with the TSA suggested security measures.

This is not the TSA’s fault; they have not been given any authority to establish a regulatory program for pipeline security.

Moving Forward

Okay this is really a non-issue since HR 3 will almost certainly not make it to the floor in the Senate and even if it did, it would almost certainly not pass. The only thing that the vote did do was to give next year’s Democratic campaigners a vote to show that they were more interested in security than were the Republicans. In tight campaigns that might be enough, especially if there is even an abortive attempt at an attack on a pipeline in the interim.

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