Gaylord Herald Times: Federal pipeline safety bill passes House and Senate, awaits president's approval

WASHINGTON — A federal pipeline safety bill, which already has Senate approval, was passed by the House of Representatives this week and moves to the president's desk.

The Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipeline and Enhancing Safety Act calls for stronger oversight of the nation's pipelines.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat and bill co-sponsor, said the bill is now awaiting presidential approval.

“It will designate all pipelines in the Great Lakes Basin as a high consequence area,” Peters said. “Freshwater (is) very difficult to clean up should there be an oil spill or any kind of spill of material.”

The unanimously supported bill addresses pipelines carrying gas and hazardous liquids.

The act would classify the Great Lakes as "unusually sensitive" along with U.S. marine coastal areas.

Jennifer McKay, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council policy specialist, said the bill provisions are is a step toward fewer pipeline risks.

“While there are more improvements that could and need to be made to address the nation's network of pipelines, the provisions included within the bill are a good step towards minimizing risks associated with pipeline infrastructure, as well as improving emergency response preparedness,” McKay said in an email.

She said the organization commends the senator’s improved pipeline safety bill.

“Improvements include the designation of the Great Lakes as a High Consequence Area, which means pipelines that could impact the Great Lakes are subject to more stringent integrity management requirements, and requiring annual inspections for pipelines located 150 feet below certain waterways, such as Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac,” McKay said.

Peters said the bill had bipartisan support.

“It was the case that I built with my colleagues that the Great Lakes is not a local issue, it’s not about Great Lakes states, it’s really about the country (and) that having this incredibly large body of fresh water in our country is a strategic asset to the whole nation,” Peters said.

He said the Great Lakes Basin is a source of drinking water for nearly 40 million people.

The act also addresses emergency response plans for ice-covered areas.

“Ice cover needs to be part of any kind of cleanup plan,” Peters said. “Surprisingly enough, if you had a cleanup plan which pipeline companies (are) required to provide — in the past you didn’t have to consider ice cover.”

The bill also calls for publicly available updates online of the status of any outstanding regulations.

McKay said the Watershed Council is, and has been, working toward the “ultimate goal of no crude oil transported in, on, or under the Great Lakes.”

“Until that time comes, we will also work to prevent an oil spill and enhance preparedness capabilities to be able to effectively respond and legislation such as the PIPES Act helps achieve these goals,” McKay said.

Peters said the bill is expected to be signed into law and the president has 10 days to sign the bill once it arrives at his desk.

By:  Arielle Breen
Source: Gaylord Herald Times