Industry, senators oppose pipeline regulatory role for states

Posted: Friday, May 12, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The pipeline industry and two senators said Thursday they oppose giving Washington and other states authority to regulate interstate pipelines.

Philip D. Wright, chairman of the Association of Oil Pipelines, said giving states such authority would result in a patchwork of differing regulations nationwide that would impede interstate commerce and hurt pipeline safety and efficiency.

''The industry simply cannot operate effectively if states can impose their own rules,'' he said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The committee's chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., already has said he opposes giving states authority to exceed federal standards. He was joined Thursday by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

''It would be a serious mistake to allow 50 different states to supersede the federal role in this area,'' Breaux said.

Washington state officials, following a fatal explosion last June in Bellingham, Wash., have said they would like to be able to enforce tougher pipeline safety requirements on interstate pipelines.

Three people died in Bellingham when a 229,000-gallon fuel leak sparked an explosion and fire in a city park.

A bill by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would allow states to go beyond federal standards to set training and certification requirements for pipeline operators as well as standards for pipeline leak detection systems.

Murray's spokeswoman, Tovah Ravitz, said after the hearing that Murray faces ''an uphill battle'' in her bid to give states more regulatory clout. But overall prospects for pipeline safety legislation this year remain good, she said.

Two competing Senate bills do not allow states to exceed federal requirements. The bills do allow states to negotiate with federal officials for a role in reviewing proposed pipeline construction and pipeline accident prevention plans.

Thursday's hearing encompassed all three bills -- one by Murray, one by McCain and an administration proposal introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.

Witnesses included the parents of Bellingham fire victims. They urged lawmakers to crack down on the pipeline industry.

''The school bus drives by -- my child is not there,'' said Mary King, whose 10-year-old son, Wade, died in the accident. ''His friends stop by to see me -- they've all grown so tall.''

The parents called on lawmakers to shut down the Olympic Pipe Line Co. line until the cause of the accident is determined, to set up regional advisory councils to help oversee the pipeline industry and to force the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety to get tougher with the industry it regulates.

''The corporate wolves must not be left in charge of the hen house,'' said Katherine Dalen, whose 10-year-old son, Steven Tsiorvas, also died in the accident.

John Hammerschmidt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told committee members that the Research and Special Programs Administration -- which oversees the Office of Pipeline Safety -- continues to put Americans at risk by not adopting NTSB safety recommendations from years ago.

In 1987, the NTSB urged the RSPA to require pipeline operators to periodically inspect pipelines for corrosion, mechanical defects and other problems. Yet 13 years later, there are no regulations that require such inspections, he said.

But Kelley Coyner, the RSPA administrator, said the agency has been improving safety. She said RSPA expects to issue proposed rules by the end of this year for liquid pipelines -- and next year for natural gas pipelines -- that set new standards for preventing and detecting pipeline corrosion.

Industry officials, meanwhile, gave their first detailed response to the three bills and called for some changes.

--A provision in Murray's bill that requires the industry to conduct internal pipeline testing every five years ''would waste safety resources'' and prevent the industry from focusing efforts where they are most needed, Wright said.

--Requirements in all three bills that the industry provide more information about pipeline safety to the public need to be better defined and may even be unnecessary because much information is already available, the officials said.

--The Hollings bill, which calls on the industry to test pipelines with the ''best achievable technology,'' is too vague and could make compliance difficult.

McCain's committee is expected to mark up a pipeline safety bill within a month.

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