November 02, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Pallone, Payne, Jr., and Rush Urge PHMSA to Continue Implementation of Pipeline Safety Laws

Committee Leaders: “We write to support the efforts of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to focus on implementing the new pipeline safety mandates and outstanding requirements from previous reauthorizations, and to encourage you to continue this work.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) sent a letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown encouraging his agency to continue its work implementing the Protecting our Infrastructure of  Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020 (PIPES Act of 2020) and applauding its completion of outstanding mandates from previous reauthorizations. 

“The bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020 calls on the agency to make important updates to federal pipeline safety provisions,” the Chairs said, referencing the bill’s requirements that PHMSA finalize regulations governing gas gathering pipelines, leak detection and repair programs, protection for unusually sensitive waters, and critical improvements for the safe operation of distribution pipelines, among others that prioritize protecting the public and environment. “Congress put some of these mandates in place in response to recent, preventable pipeline explosions… Moreover, the bill also recognized the need to mitigate and prevent the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas …As such, we encourage your agency to focus its resources on these important and bipartisan mandates that prioritize public safety and the environment. Advancing these mandates creates jobs for the men and women who maintain, repair, replace, monitor, and operate pipelines; improves the lives of those who live, work, and travel near the pipelines made safer by these mandates; and safeguards the environment as we work to address the climate crisis,” the Chairs wrote.

The Chairs also recognized recent actions by PHMSA to advance pipeline safety by issuing several rules that fulfill outstanding congressional mandates, such as standards for gas gathering lines, remote-control or automatic shut-off valves, gas transmission lines, and unusually sensitive areas. 

The four Committee leaders applauded the Deputy Administrator and PHMSA staff for advancing pipeline safety and implementing new standards, despite challenges from the oil and gas industry, the agency’s onerous regulatory processes, and staffing issues.

“While work remains to continue strengthening these new standards to better safeguard the public and environment, we applaud your agency and its dedicated workforce for these achievements,” the four Chairs continued. “Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry has invoked legal action or sought reconsideration on the rules regulating gas gathering lines, unusually sensitive areas, remote-control or automatic shut-off valves, and gas transmission lines, which delays the implementation of these safety standards and stymies the progress of your agency. The constant threat of litigation has long loomed over PHMSA, due in large part to a duplicative and onerous cost-benefit provision added to the agency’s statute in 1996… This is particularly challenging for an agency that historically has been understaffed, often having to compete with the industry to hire and retain personnel with appropriate expertise.” 

The Chairs concluded their letter by encouraging the agency to continue its important work by implementing the identified sections of the PIPES Act of 2020 and other announced efforts to improve pipeline protections, such as forthcoming regulation to prevent a repeat of the rupture and release of a carbon dioxide pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi, that asphyxiated and disoriented residents. 

The full letter text can be found here