Sen. Rand Paul, a Tea Party conservative, is single-handedly blocking progress of a federal pipeline safety bill that has strong support from both parties and the pipeline industry.
Even after a natural-gas explosion rocked three counties last week in his home state of Kentucky—the latest in a year of pipeline disasters nationwide—Paul stands resolutely alone against the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011 “on philosophical grounds,” because he opposes all government regulation, a spokeswoman said.
|Flames light up the night sky over San Bruno, CA, after a natural-gas pipeline explosion Sept. 9, 2010, killed eight people and leveled the community.|
Thus, Paul has placed a “procedural hold” on the bill, preventing it from coming to a vote by the Senate. The bill drew unanimous approval by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in a vote in May. Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also represents Kentucky, supports it.
Specifically, Paul is opposing an attempt by the Senate to advance the bill—which drew no opposition in committee—using a fast-track procedure, in order to free up time for legislation aimed at job creation.
However, the procedure requires unanimous consent. And Paul, alone, objects.
Paul has used similar tactics to delay other measures, including provisions of the Patriot Act and a resolution condemning the violence in Syria. He also opposes safety regulations for coal mines.
|Sen. Rand Paul says he opposes federal regulation “on philosophical grounds.”|
“Sen. Paul doesn’t think new regulations and the creation of dozens of bureaucratic positions should be swept through without sufficient debate and vote,” said Paul’s spokeswoman, Moira Bagley.
Paul’s office has declined further comment on the issue in recent days, and his website does not mention it.
‘A Rare Consensus’
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), follows a series of disastrous years for the pipeline industry. Since 2006, an average of 40 pipeline accidents each year has caused fatalities or injuries.
There have been several natural-gas pipeline ruptures nationwide since the earthquake-magnitude blast that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood near San Francisco last September.
That toll “has created a rare consensus in Congress among Republicans and Democrats that current federal regulations need to be strengthened,” notes the Oil & Gas Financial Journal.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the American Gas Association, and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines all favor the legislation.
In a July 26 letter to senators, the groups said the bill “would provide legal support for important ‘next steps’ in improving safety.”
The bill reauthorizes appropriations for the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration for fiscal years 2011 through 2014 and increases oversight of the nation’s 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and hazardous-materials pipelines.
The measure would:
• Increase civil penalties for violators of pipeline regulations and add civil penalties for obstructing investigations;
• Expand excess flow valve requirements to include multi-family buildings and small commercial facilities;
• Eliminate exemptions and require all local and state government agencies, and their contractors, to notify “One-Call” notification centers before digging;
• Require the installation of automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves on new transmission pipelines;
• Require the Secretary of Transportation to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined “high-consequence areas” and establish regulations as appropriate;
• Make pipeline information, inspections, and standards available to the public on the PHMSA web site; and
• Authorize additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees, through a phased-in increase over the next four years.
Pipeline Safety Priority
Pipeline safety has become a federal priority this year. In April, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a national pipeline safety initiative that includes several pieces of legislation, stepped-up inspections, and other initiatives in cooperation with the industry.
“I want to be able to say to people, when you throw a light switch, you shouldn’t cause an explosion in your front yard,” LaHood said. He announced the initiative near the Allentown, PA, site of a pipeline blast that killed five people in February.
In May, PHMSA expanded the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement, and Safety (PIPES) Act of 2006 to include smaller rural pipelines that were largely exempted from the rule’s first phase. That change takes effect Oct. 1.
In August, DOT announced that it was considering a new rule that could, among other things, strengthen corrosion control measures on transmission pipelines.