Tougher pipeline bill to be unveiled

By JOHN HUGHES

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — With time running short to pass a pipeline safety bill this year, a top House Democrat planned to introduce a bill today that is tougher on the oil and natural gas industry than legislation that already cleared the Senate.

The bill includes requirements for pipeline inspections every five years, tests of pipeline employees to ensure they are qualified and fines of $1,000 per barrel of pipeline oil that spills. Those provisions are not in the Senate bill.

The proposal by Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, comes as a split is developing among pipeline safety advocates in the closing days of the 106th Congress.

Some, including Washington state’s two senators, want Congress to pass the less expansive Senate bill with the idea of improving it in coming years.

Failure to pass the Senate bill, which has won the tepid acceptance of the pipeline industry, could mean that nothing will get enough support to pass in the roughly two weeks remaining before Congress adjourns for the year, the Senate bill advocates say.

"I just believe it’s very important to get something to the floor," said Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash.

But other lawmakers, including Oberstar and Washington state Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee, Adam Smith and Jim McDermott, said the short time remaining before Congress adjourns should not prevent passage of a more expansive bill.

Congress will reach agreements on multibillion-dollar spending bills, Inslee said, adding, "There’s no reason to think we cannot get agreement on a pipeline safety bill."

Lawmakers have been pushing for the tougher pipeline safety legislation since a Bellingham gasoline pipeline rupture and explosion last year left three youths dead. The efforts intensified after an Aug. 19 natural gas pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, N.M., killed 12 people.

The Senate bill, by John McCain, R-Ariz., would require pipeline operators for the first time to submit detailed plans to the federal Office of Pipeline Safety showing that the operators had conducted tests and taken other steps to make sure the pipelines are safe.

The operators also would be required to show the Department of Transportation office that they have trained the employees operating the pipelines. Fines for safety violations would be increased from $500,000 to $1 million.

But critics of the Senate bill, including environmentalists, organized labor and the parents of the Bellingham pipeline accident victims, say the measure is no improvement over the status quo.

They complain that the bill relies too much on the Office of Pipeline Safety for enforcement, an office that they say has a poor record in cracking down on the pipeline industry.

Lois Epstein, senior engineer for the group Environmental Defense, said passing a tougher pipeline safety bill next year is preferable to passing the Senate bill this year.

But others argue that if no bill passes this year, nothing may pass next year. A new Congress and new president could have pipeline safety far down their list of priorities, said Martin Edwards, director of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who along with Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., co-authored the McCain bill, said House members have criticized the Senate proposal but have yet to pass a measure of their own.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., has not yet said whether he wants to push the Senate bill or some other approach in the closing days of the session, a committee spokesman said.

Rep. Jack Metcalf, R-Wash., whose district includes Bellingham, also has not said whether he favors the Senate bill or some other approach in the closing days.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.