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President Obama Opens 2012 by Advancing Pipeline Safety

New legislation will help keep America's communities safer and give pipeline operators the certainty they need to run their systems more effectively

Ed note: This has been cross-posted from the Department of Transportation's Fastlane blog

When we say at DOT that safety is our number one priority, we are not kidding around. And today, as part of that important goal, President Obama signed into law the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act. 

Last April, following several fatal pipeline accidents, we called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work.  We also convened a Pipeline Safety Forum with state officials, industry leaders, and other stakeholders to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of America's pipeline infrastructure. 

In one of their final actions for 2011, the House and Senate passed a pipeline safety bill consistent with the legislative proposal we submitted to Congress last year.  This legislation gives the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an important part of DOT, stronger enforcement tools and increases civil penalties for pipeline operators who do not meet safety regulations. It's another terrific step forward for greater pipeline safety. 

Not only will this legislation help keep America's communities safer; it also helps give pipeline operators the certainty they need to run their systems more effectively.

To advance pipeline safety, the bill doubles the maximum fines that pipeline operators face for safety violations. The Bill requires PHMSA to issue new pipeline safety standards requiring operators to install automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves and excess flow valves in new or replaced transmission pipelines.  As U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller said, "Communities can rest a little easier knowing that Congress has implemented tougher safety rules."

The bill authorizes PHMSA to award $110 million in safety-related grants each year. These include state damage prevention programs, technical assistance to local communities, emergency response training, and one-call system improvements.  And PHMSA is authorized to add a number of new pipeline inspectors to support its investigation and enforcement obligations. 

To promote regulatory certainty for the pipeline industry, the new bill prohibits PHMSA during a two to three year Congressional review period, from issuing regulations establishing leak-detection requirements or expanding integrity management requirements beyond high-consequence areas.  However, this restriction would not apply if a condition poses any risk to public safety, property, or the environment. 

As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee observed, "By providing greater regulatory certainty, the bill will help create a better economic environment for U.S. businesses to create jobs." 

This bill is a win for safety and a win for America's communities. And, by signing it into law on the first business day of the new year, President Obama has sent a clear message that this Administration believes we can achieve greater safety and stronger economic growth at the same time. 

I can't think of a better way to start 2012.