05.21.15

Peters, Stabenow Call for Permanent Administrator to Lead Pipeline Safety Agency

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow (MI) joined eight of their Senate colleagues to send a letter urging the White House to nominate a permanent administrator to lead the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which plays a vital role in protecting communities across Michigan from spills and accidents while ensuring the safe flow of energy products. The most recent permanent PHMSA administrator left the position in October, more than 220 days ago.

“Given PHMSA’s responsibilities of regulating approximately 2.6 million miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, crude oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids all over our country, and the critical role the agency plays in regulating crude-by-rail, we are concerned that we still do not have a permanent administrator to lead the Agency,” wrote Senators Peters, Stabenow and their colleagues. “PHMSA’s responsibilities are incredibly important, and we need a fully empowered administrator to lead this agency.”

The letter highlights the importance of having a permanent administrator to ensure accountability, develop long-term plans and respond quickly when things go wrong. In 2010, a pipeline break in Michigan sent more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, impacting more than 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River and 4,435 acres of adjacent shoreline habitat.

Earlier this year, Peters and Stabenow introduced an amendment that would have ensured PHMSA has the resources required to oversee petroleum pipelines, including aging pipelines around the Great Lakes such as those running through the Straits of Mackinac, where a pipeline break could have disastrous impacts on the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The amendment would have required PHMSA to certify that they have the resources necessary to conduct proper oversight of pipelines in the Great Lakes before approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and require PHMSA to develop recommendations for special conditions to apply to pipelines in the Great Lakes, similar to the 59 special conditions developed for Keystone.

 

The full text of the letter is available below, or click here:

 

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write regarding the absence of a permanent head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  This Agency plays a vital role in protecting communities across our states and supporting economic development.  We respectfully request that you act quickly to nominate an administrator for PHMSA so that the Senate can confirm an individual to this key position.

The most recent permanent administrator left the position in October, more than 220 days ago.  Given PHMSA’s responsibilities of regulating approximately 2.6 million miles of pipelines that carry natural gas, crude oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids all over our country, and the critical role the agency plays in regulating crude-by-rail, we are concerned that we still do not have a permanent administrator to lead the Agency.  PHMSA’s responsibilities are incredibly important, and we need a fully empowered administrator to lead this agency.

Our states have unfortunately experienced first-hand what happens when old pipelines break.  These types of spills highlight the importance of proper oversight and sensible regulations.  We rely on pipelines to transport a wide array of products across the country and expect them to be delivered safely.  That responsibility grows in size and scope every year as our infrastructure ages and our oil and gas production increases. The recently released Quadrennial Energy Review highlights the substantial need to upgrade the United States’ aging energy infrastructure.  Additionally, several of our states have experienced crude-by-rail accidents in recent years, emphasizing the need to work to prevent future accidents and reduce the impacts to our communities and the environment when accidents do occur.

We realize that having a permanent administrator is not a cure-all, and that the Agency needs adequate resources to carry out its mission.  However, Congress provided increased funding to the Agency this year, and we support the Administration’s request to significantly increase funding for pipeline and crude-by-rail safety.  It is not realistic to think we can expect PHMSA to drastically increase inspections or keep up with these evolving industries without making sensible investments in the Agency.

It is important to states like ours that PHMSA have a permanent administrator to ensure accountability, to develop long-term plans for pipeline transport and crude-by-rail safety, and to respond quickly when things unfortunately go wrong.  We rely on this Agency to protect our citizens and our environment from damaging spills and accidents, while also ensuring the flow of energy products to those who need them.  Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you submit a nomination for PHMSA administrator as soon as practical.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

###