Detroit Free Press: Peters, Stabenow want to raise liability caps on Great Lakes pipelines
WASHINGTON — Michigan’s U.S. senators proposed legislation today that they say would improve underwater pipeline safety in the Great Lakes by raising liability caps on pipeline owners and giving federal officials more authority to shut down pipelines if they deem it necessary.
The proposals made by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, come as environmentalists continue to demand safeguards — if not a shutdown — of Canadian oil company Enbridge’s Line 5, a pair of 64-year-old lines piping light crude and liquid natural gas across the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.
A spill in that area could be devastating to water quality and wildlife and fish habitat in Michigan. But Enbridge officials have maintained throughout what is now a years’ long fight over the pipelines that they are safe — and appropriately monitored and tested regularly — despite concerns to the contrary.
The legislation, which would need to be approved by a Republican-led House and Senate, calls for creating a special classification under the pipeline safety law for Great Lakes pipelines that would hold them to the same liability standards as other offshore pipelines.
Such a change would result in owners of oil pipelines in the Great Lakes, including Enbridge, being responsible for the full cost of any cleanup if a spill were to occur, compared to an insurance liability limit now of $634 million.
The change would also hold Great Lakes pipeline owners responsible for up to $134 million in economic damages caused by a spill and require them to provide proof of their financial ability to cover such penalties to operate their pipelines.
“The Great Lakes ecosystem is unlike any other in the world and many existing pipeline safety rules and regulations do not adequately protect this precious resource from a disastrous oil spill,” said Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which would be expected to consider the legislation.
“We cannot allow another devastating pipeline break like the one that dumped a million gallons of oil in to the Kalamazoo River in 2010,” said Stabenow, referring to a catastrophic break in an Enbridge-owned pipeline near Marshall, Mich.
The bills proposed by Peters and Stabenow would also expand the U.S. Department of Transportation’s authority to shut down pipelines considered unsafe to include situations where a pipeline owner violated operating requirements, was found to be unable to respond to a potential incident or was deemed financially unable to cover the costs of cleanup and damages should a spill happen.
They would also require the Coast Guard and EPA to review oil spill response plans, make spill response plans available online for public review and create a Center for Expertise for Great Lakes to study the impacts of a potential spill in freshwater bodies of water and how best to respond.
Enbridge put out a statement saying it was "aware of the legislation and... reviewing it." The statement added that the company supports the safety of its pipelines "by investing heavily in the tools, technologies and strategies to ensure ... systems operate safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible manner."
By: Todd Spangler
Source: Detroit Free Press
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