In an attempt to garner support from House Republicans following last week’s release of draft legislation to reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act (PSA), Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a more bipartisan version, The Safer Pipelines Act of 2019, H.R. 3432. The revised bill was subsequently approved by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and heads to the full committee for consideration and mark-up. At a minimum, it appears that legislators in the House are working towards issuing a bill prior to the August recess and reauthorization deadline of September 30, 2019. The revisions to the House pipeline safety seem designed to make a more palatable bill for the Senate as it contains some significant proposed changes from the prior discussion draft that was the subject of a contentious hearing in the House.
H.R. 3432 does not include the following provisions that appeared in the earlier discussion draft put forward by the Democrats: the expansion of gathering pipeline regulation; the phasing out of direct assessment; reference to “automatic spill detection” requirements; and, elimination of the MAOP grandfather clause for gas transmission pipelines as well as establishment of spike test requirements for all gas transmission pipelines. Related to gathering pipelines, PHMSA and its Gas Pipeline Technical Advisory Committee (GPAC) convened meetings in the last week of June regarding a pending (and previously mandated) proposed rulemaking that would increase regulation of gas gathering pipelines to include reporting requirements for all gathering pipelines and regulate an additional 25,000 miles of gas gathering pipelines.
With respect to provisions that H.R. 3432 retained from the Democrats discussion draft, the following provisions remain relatively intact: elimination of cost-benefit analysis (Section 3); requiring submission of Safety-Related Condition Reports to state and local authorities (Section 3); Information sharing/public awareness, including community right to know and emergency preparedness provisions (Section 5); clarifying the mandamus action/citizen suit provision (Section 6); removal of the cap on civil penalties (Section 7), and revision of the criminal standard to “knowingly or recklessly” (Section 8). Notably, Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee continue to take issue with the proposals to revise the citizen suit provision and the criminal standard.
Provisions Added or Revised
Several provisions were added or significantly revised from the discussion draft, as a result of further bipartisan discussion, including: a requirement that PHMSA issue rules that prioritize other methods of inspection over direct assessment (Section 4); a requirement that PHMSA study the methods of inspection of distribution pipelines other than direct assessment and that be reported to the House and the Senate (Section 4); a requirement that automatic shutoff valves on transmission pipelines in high consequence areas be based on risk assessment “as appropriate” (not as mandatory) (Section 4). During the markup this week, both Committee Republicans and Democrats put forward amendments to H.R. 3432 that were ultimately withdrawn, including provisions from DOT’s proposed legislation and the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, HR 2139.
This is the third legislative proposal for PSA reauthorization, preceded by the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, HR 2139/S. 1097 (April) and DOT’s Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2019 (early June). The first bill referenced now appears to be abandoned, and DOT’s proposal will likely be considered during Senate or Conference Committee discussions. The deadline to reauthorize the PSA and continue funding PHMSA expires on September 30, 2019, and it appears that there is bipartisan legislative commitment on behalf of both Republicans and Democrats to meet that deadline.