Detroit Free Press: Congress passes bill with Great Lakes pipeline measures
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has granted final passage to a pipeline safety bill that will increase standards for pipelines in and around the Great Lakes and require more detailed plans for responding to potential oil spills in areas with heavy ice cover, like those seen in recent winters around Michigan.
The Senate, on a unanimous voice vote Monday evening, concurred with the U.S. House’s changes to the pipeline safety reauthorization bill, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature, which is expected. It also reauthorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration through 2019.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township,had pressed for additional protections in the law due to concerns with pipelines in the region — particularly Enbridge’s Line 5, which includes a pair of 63-year-old lines moving oil and natural gas across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.
Environmentalists have called for Line 5 to be shut down because of the threat they say it poses. But Enbridge, the Canadian energy company which owns and operates it, says the pipeline is safe and is already inspected more than required. It has said it welcomes “any additional review.”
Peters, in particular, pushed for inclusion of a measure in the Senate bill designating the Great Lakes as a so-called high-consequence area in terms of pipeline review. That means that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will require companies operating pipelines in the area to meet tougher standards and have specific plans for responding to environmental threats posed by a spill there.
Peters also had pushed for inclusion of a measure in the bill which requires PHMSA and pipeline operators to prepare plans for responding to potential spills in areas where there is heavy ice cover, like that seen in Michigan in early 2014 and 2015. The Coast Guard has already acknowledged that it lacks technology and capacity to adequately respond to a large spill in such conditions.
“The Great Lakes play a central role in our state’s economy, environment and way of life,” said Peters, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill along with Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont. “We must ensure that the proper safety and oversight is in place.”
In the U.S. House, the legislation was passed after being approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — of which Miller is a member — and the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
“There is zero room for error in the Great Lakes, especially with regard to the aging Line 5 pipeline that runs under the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, where there is a strong current and any rupture would be difficult to contain," Miller said on the House floor earlier this month.
“More than two-thirds of U.S. energy consumption moves through our nation’s pipeline network, and our bipartisan efforts will improve safety of this critical infrastructure here in Michigan and across the country,” Upton said when the bill passed the House last week. “Certain pipelines should be subject to greater scrutiny and more frequent inspections, and Line 5, which runs across the Straits of Mackinac, is a perfect example. If a spill were to occur there, the consequences would be unthinkable."
"We promised action and I am proud that we have a bipartisan agreement that will make a real difference," he added.
The legislation also requires the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to review natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines with an eye toward the risks posed by age, condition and other factors. Many of the measures proposed in the Senate bill were based on those in an earlier bill proposed by Peters and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
The bill also gives PHMSA authority to take immediate action when pipelines are determined to pose an imminent threat, directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities and promotes pipeline mapping to prevent damage during excavations.
By: Todd Spangler
Source: Detroit Free Press
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