April 02, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Lipinski Statements from Hearing on “Pipeline Safety: Reviewing the Status of Mandates and Examining Additional Safety Needs”

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) during today’s hearing titled: “Pipeline Safety: Reviewing the Status of Mandates and Examining Additional Safety Needs.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chairman Lipinski and Ranking Member Crawford, for calling today’s hearing to consider the state of pipeline safety in the United States.

Across the country, 2.7 million miles of pipelines transport hazardous liquid and natural gas from production and origin sites to refineries and chemical plants, storage facilities, and homes and businesses. These pipelines reach the furthest stretches of the country, making the integrity of the pipelines important to rural communities and dense cities alike. 

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – the Federal agency charged with ensuring the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of these pipeline systems – reported 633 pipeline incidents in 2018. Eight people were killed and 92 others were injured in last year’s incidents. One of the worst incidents in recent memory occurred in September in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. When oversights led to highly pressurized gas entering the low-pressure gas distribution system servicing homes and businesses, multiple fires and explosions damaged 131 structures, destroyed five homes, injured 21 people, and killed an 18-year-old.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating that incident along with seven others, such as the February 2019 incident in San Francisco where a third-party contractor struck a Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation natural gas main line, igniting a fire that burned for more than two hours until the operator could isolate and shut down the flow of gas.

Surely, there is more that we can do to improve safety. Today’s hearing provides an opportunity to hear from a wide range of pipeline stakeholders about the safety risks that continue to elude us.

There is one thing we don’t need any expert to tell us: safety mandates from the 2011 and 2016 reauthorization bills still aren’t completed.

In 2011, after devastating accidents in San Bruno, California and Marshall, Michigan, Congress required PHMSA to improve the safety of hazardous liquid pipelines, to eliminate safety gaps in gas transmission pipelines, and to examine requirements to better detect leaks and shut off pipelines during disasters. These rules haven’t been finalized, 8 years later. Part of that is due to agency failures, and part of that may be due to burdensome statutory requirements that require PHMSA to prove, in every safety rule, that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Additional mandates from the 2016 reauthorization bill, including regulations intended to prevent underground natural gas storage leaks like what happened in Aliso Canyon, remain unaccomplished.

The Administrator is here today to tell us where these mandates stand. To his credit, and after much lambasting that occurred at our last oversight hearing, the Administrator will be able to talk about some progress on some of these mandated rulemakings. Yet, the rules are still not done.

So, where are the safety rules? Some are sitting on the Secretary’s desk or are over at OMB. In the few months since this Subcommittee’s last pipeline oversight hearing, PHMSA has moved five rulemakings out of the agency and to the Secretary’s Office or to OMB. I’m not sure what is taking so long to review a rule that PHMSA has completed – is it the President’s Executive Orders on regulatory reform, or an arbitrary and nonsensical cap on the cost to industry of regulations imposed by the Secretary and OMB.

I expect the Administrator to tell us his agency’s plans to finish these long-overdue mandates. Specifically, I want to know when they will finally be completed. I also expect to hear what tools or resources Congress can provide PHMSA or other hurdles we can tear down to ensure that future mandates don’t take eight years to complete.

Let me be clear: a near-decade of delay will not happen again. We will not sit here in 2027 asking when the mandates from 2019 will be finished. The public deserves better, and Congress demands better.

So, I hope today’s hearing will be informative. I look forward to hearing from the NTSB, who will have plenty to share on the importance of the past mandates and ways to improve safety overall. And we have a range of safety experts, first responders, and industry on the second panel to help us identify how to keep our pipeline systems safe. If there are things we can fix, we’re going to fix them.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing the witnesses’ testimony.

Chair Lipinski:

Good morning. I want to welcome everyone to the first hearing of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee in the 116th Congress. This hearing is entitled: “Pipeline Safety: Reviewing the Status of Mandates and Examining Additional Safety Needs”. I specifically want to give a warm welcome to our Ranking Member, Rick Crawford, and the new members of the subcommittee. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Crawford, members on both sides of the aisle, as well as staff on the many issues we have before this subcommittee, including pipeline safety reauthorization. We have a long tradition of bipartisanship and I look forward to continuing that tradition.

This hearing is particularly important given the recent spate of pipeline incidents, both liquid and gas, that we have seen in recent years. Explosions and pipeline failures just in the past couple of years in Merrimack Valley, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Silver Spring have tragically killed many people and caused severe property damage.

I want to acknowledge Congresswoman Lori Trahan and Congressman Seth Moulton, who will speak today about the Merrimack Valley tragedy, and the impacts it has had on their constituents.

From 1999 to 2018, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) reported 11,992 pipeline incidents which resulted in 317 deaths, 1,302 injuries, and more than $8.1 billion in damages. Incidents increased nearly two-fold from 1999 to 2018. This shows that we still have much more work to do to ensure the safety of our pipeline system, which must be our top priority.

First and foremost on the safety front is the expeditious completion of outstanding rulemakings from the 2011 and 2016 pipeline safety reauthorizations. I do want to note the progress that PHMSA and Administrator Elliot have made since this subcommittee’s June 2018 oversight hearing on the outstanding mandates from the 2011 and 2016 bills. But it remains unacceptable that critical rules like the hazardous liquids rule, gas transmission line rule, and the valve and rupture detection rule, have not been implemented. PHMSA’s and USDOT’s inaction continue to place lives at risk and that is simply unacceptable. They must do a better job getting the regulations completed expeditiously.

Given the delay in completing these important rulemakings, we need to examine PHMSA’s rulemaking process to determine if there are obstacles to more swift promulgations of regulations, including the unique benefit-cost analysis that PHMSA is required to undertake as part of any rulemaking.

I am pleased to welcome my good friend Jennifer Homendy here on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). NTSB recently came out with their 2019-2020 Most Wanted list of safety improvements. I look forward to hearing from NTSB about pipeline safety issues on this list and ways Congress can address those issues.

Additionally, NTSB currently has 36 open pipeline safety recommendations. Twenty-four of those open recommendations are to PHMSA. Three of the Most Wanted recommendations to PHMSA are designated as “Open – Unacceptable Response,” including finding crack defects in pipes. It’s important that we move quickly to address NTSB’s recommendations, many of which have remained unaddressed for decades, and determine if there are any new safety regulations needed.

We also need to continue to assess the workforce capacity of PHMSA and ensure that PHMSA is properly staffed. This assessment should not only examine whether PHMSA adequately retains and has enough expertise and experience among pipeline inspector staff, but also whether PHMSA has enough technical and regulatory staff as well.

I look forward to hearing from the safety advocates on the second panel about the safety gaps they believe exist and need to be addressed. I also want to consider how industry can take proactive steps to work with communities and first responders to help prepare and train local emergency personnel in the case of emergencies. It is important to ensure that robust emergency management and information sharing plans and procedures are in place should something go wrong like it did in my district in Romeoville, Illinois when a pipeline spilled more than 6,427 barrels of oil in 2010.

Finally, I have heard concerns that some of PHMSA’s regulations are woefully outdated and inhibit industry innovation in new areas. Therefore, it is important to listen to industry stakeholders on some of the challenges they face and I look forward to considering reasonable requests about how we can modernize our regulations, while holding bad actors accountable and not compromise safety.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. I now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Crawford, for an opening statement.