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Peters Pipeline Safety Provisions Move Forward in the Senate

Provisions Advance as Part of Bipartisan Legislation Introduced by Peters & Commerce Committee Colleagues

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved bipartisan legislation U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) introduced with his Commerce Committee colleagues to reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019, and improve pipeline safety and oversight. The legislation, known as the Securing America’s Future Energy: Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (SAFE PIPES) Act, included several pipeline safety provisions from the Pipeline Improvement and Preventing Spills (PIPS) Act that Peters introduced in September, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow.

“It’s taken five years and nearly $1 billion to clean up the last oil spill from a pipeline break in Michigan, and a similar spill in the Great Lakes would be devastating to our economy, environment and drinking water supply,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to work with my Commerce Committee colleagues as we move forward with bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the safety of our nation’s pipelines and protect our communities and natural resources from the threat of a pipeline break.”

"People in Michigan know all too well how devastating oil spills can be to our waterways,” said Senator Stabenow, Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. “Given the devastating consequences, we need to take a strong stand to prevent a spill from happening in our Great Lakes. This legislation will give the State of Michigan additional information to provide critical oversight and protections, and I applaud Senator Peters for moving this bipartisan bill forward in Committee.” 

The SAFE PIPES Act includes several provisions and elements from Peters’ original pipeline legislation that will help ensure the Great Lakes and other water resources in Michigan and across the country are protected from the threat of pipeline spills:

  • Great Lakes are designated as a high consequence area. The SAFE PIPES Act designates the Great Lakes as an Unusually Sensitive Area, making pipelines in the Great Lakes subject to higher standards for operating safely.
  • Improves oil spill response plans to address ice cover. The bill requires PHMSA and pipeline operators to consider response plans that address cleanup of an oil spill affecting waters or shorelines partially or entirely covered by ice. During the past two winters, maximum ice coverage in the Great Lakes has been well above normal levels. The Coast Guard has stated it does not have the technology or capacity for worst-case discharge cleanup under solid ice, and that its response activities are not adequate in ice-choked waters.
  • Requires critical reviews of pipeline age and integrity. The legislation requires Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on pipeline integrity management of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, and a review of the risks posed by age, condition, materials and construction of a pipeline. These reports will help State and Federal regulators conduct better oversight of pipelines and recommend changes to ensure that pipelines are operating safely and securely. Many elements were based on provisions from the PIPS Act introduced by Peters and Stabenow earlier this year.

The legislation increases the authorized funding levels for PHMSA by 2% annually over four years to ensure the agency has sufficient resources to conduct pipeline oversight. The bill also contains provisions to streamline the hiring process for PHMSA pipeline inspectors for one year to expedite hiring of qualified candidates for understaffed critical positions.

The legislation includes additional measures to improve the storage of hazardous materials, including directing the Department of Transportation to issue minimum safety standards for the operation and integrity management of underground natural gas storage facilities and a provision to promote mapping technology to help prevent accidental pipeline damage during underground excavations. It also includes a research and development section that encourages collaboration on research, development and technology between federal agencies, public stakeholders and industry leaders.

Senator Peters has been a strong supporter of enhancing pipeline safety to protect the Great Lakes. In June, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a Peters amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act that would require the Coast Guard to work with partner agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct an assessment on the effectiveness of oil spill response activities in the Great Lakes.