Ranking Members Larsen, Payne, Jr. Statements from Hearing on Pipeline Safety
Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), during today’s hearing, titled, “Pipeline Safety: Reviewing Implementation of the PIPES Act of 2020 and Examining Future Safety Needs.”
Video of Larsen’s and Payne, Jr.’s opening statements can be found here and here.
More information on the hearing can be found here.
Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Graves, Chairman Nehls and Ranking Member Payne for calling this hearing on pipeline safety.
On June 10, 1999, a pipeline explosion in Bellingham, WA claimed the lives of two 10-year-old boys and a young man of 18 years. The explosion also released 237,000 gallons of gasoline into Whatcom Creek that flowed through Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington. The ensuing fireball caused millions of dollars of damage. It shocked the community that day and is still a seminal moment in the history of the town of Bellingham.
This explosion spurred my commitment, which has been steadfast for over 20 years, to the highest level of pipeline safety. For my entire tenure in Congress, I have fought to reduce the risk of pipeline incidents, promote transparency of pipeline safety information for local communities and increase accountability for pipeline operators.
I ask unanimous consent to submit a letter for the record from a parent of one of the boys killed in the explosion in my district, Bellingham City Council Member Skip Williams. This letter outlines a number of recommendations to improve the safety and oversight of our pipeline system.
I share many of Councilmember Williams’ views and as Ranking Member, I will ensure that this Committee’s work to reauthorize the PIPES Act of 2020 puts safety at the forefront of every policy decision.
Putting safety first means greater oversight and accountability of the activities of pipeline operators. It also means greater transparency for local communities and the public.
Reducing the risk of incidents means applying safety requirements, where appropriate, to existing pipeline infrastructure. PHMSA cannot effectively do its job if infrastructure already in the ground is off limits to safety regulation.
Improving safety means preventing incidents. PHMSA needs to have the resources and staff to inspect pipelines, conduct investigations if incidents occur, and take appropriate enforcement action.
I am especially pleased that we will hear detailed recommendations on what actions Congress can take to advance safety from a fellow Washingtonian—and constituent from Whatcom County—on today’s panel: Bill Caram, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. The Trust was formed following the deadly Olympic Pipeline explosion in my district. I think you will hear from Bill that the Pipeline Safety Trust is both a watch dog and can also be a partner with communities and with industry to ensure long-term safety.
I appreciate each of our witnesses being here today. I want to welcome PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown, who visited Washington’s Second District to tour the Olympic pipeline site in Bellingham.
PHMSA has a new charge, since the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), to distribute $1 billion over five years under the first ever Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization grant program. The $200 million available to municipalities and community-owned utilities in FY 2022 is the first installment of this funding to repair or replace natural gas pipelines and help reduce incidents and improve safety. This is just the beginning.
All safety responsibility must not fall to PHMSA. I encourage the involvement of communities and public interest organizations in pipeline safety. I support ongoing grants to support the 400 state-based safety inspectors of intrastate pipelines and local distribution systems.
Finally, as we convene the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials for the first time in this Congress, I call to attention the request from Members on my side of the aisle, led by Ranking Member Payne and Rep. Sykes, that this Committee hold a hearing on the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. I endorse and support their efforts.
Pipelines play a critical role in the nation’s infrastructure and the daily lives of Americans. We are here today to make sure the national pipeline network safely delivers essential energy products across the country. I look forward to today’s discussion.
Ranking Member Payne, Jr.:
Thank you, Chairman Nehls, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen, and all our witnesses for being with us today.
Before I get to the subject of today’s hearing, I want to note that this is the first hearing of the Railroad Subcommittee this Congress and the first following the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
This has been followed by additional Norfolk Southern derailments in Southeast Michigan and Springfield, Ohio
Just this week a Norfolk Southern employee lost his life in a collision in Cleveland.
Chairman Nehls, thank you for visiting East Palestine immediately following the derailment.
I look forward to working with you this Congress to tackle freight rail safety.
I’m pleased that the Senate has put forth a bipartisan freight rail safety bill and I’m hopeful that we can do the same over here.
The safe operation of pipelines is vital to protecting both our energy needs and the communities these pipelines run through.
These are not just abstract concerns.
Just last December, a pipeline operated by TC Energy ruptured in northeast Kansas, spilling over 14,000 barrels of crude oil.
If you have a hard time visualizing 14,000 barrels, it’s the same volume as 20 rail tank cars.
In Linden, New Jersey, in my district, a pipeline operated by Buckeye Partners ruptured and spilled 350 barrels adjacent to a fragile wetland in March 2021.
We must learn lessons from these incidents as well as the Denbury incident in Sartartia, Mississippi, the Beta Offshore incident in San Pedro Bay, California, and the Freeport LNG incident in Quintana Island.
PHMSA reports that in 2022, 631 pipeline incidents occurred, from which 10 individuals died, 24 were injured, and property damages totaled more than 680 million dollars.
Of these incidents, 17 were serious and 267 were significant.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about their commitment to safety, if PHMSA has the resources necessary to hold bad actors accountable, and how we can make sure that what goes into pipelines stays in the pipes.
I’m also interested to hear about PHMSA’s progress on carbon dioxide pipeline rulemaking.
The safe transmission of carbon dioxide to sequester locations is vital to meeting our carbon reduction goals, and I want to make sure this can be implemented without delay.
Thank you again Mr. Chairman, and I yield back my time.
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