Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Senate Amends and Passes S 275 – Pipeline Safety

Yesterday the Senate passed S 275, the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011. Two amendments to the reported language; one administrative and one substantive; along with the bill were all adopted by unanimous consent with no debate.

New Regulations Required

The substantive amendment offered by Sen. Paul (R,KY) adjusted some dates in the sections 26 thru 29 reflecting the fact that it is already FY 2012 and 2011 is nearly over. More importantly a new sub-section was added that would require the Secretary to “prescribe regulations for conducting tests to confirm the material strength of previously untested natural gas transmission pipelines located in areas identified pursuant to section 60109(a) of title 49, United States Code, and operating at a pressure greater than 30 percent of specified minimum yield strength” {§27(d)}.

Section 27 had already required operators to conduct such testing but there had been no provisions for the establishment of regulations specifying how that testing should be conducted. This addition corrects that shortcoming.

Moving Forward

The Senate was the first to get their pipeline safety bill passed so it will be their language that probably gets ignored in the other house. The House will probably take up this bill fairly quickly and substitute language already adopted by committee for the language in this bill. In this case that will probably be HR 2937 that was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on September 21st (Note: the committee report on that bill has yet to be published).

Other Bills are Now Dead

With the Senate taking up this bill S 234, the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011, has essentially been killed. While not nearly identical to S 275 the two bills overlap enough that there would endless confusion if it was considered and passed. The fate of S 1502 is not nearly so clear. That bill specifically addresses pipelines and river crossings and could still receive consideration. Actually, I’m surprised that its language wasn’t offered as an amendment to this bill. Since it is slightly more controversial than S 275 the Senate leadership may have wanted to avoid having a combined bill that might require debate and amendment.

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