Federal oversight of the nation's pipelines would be tightened and penalties for some violations more than doubled under an Obama administration plan sent to Congress Wednesday in response to a deadly explosion in California and a major oil spill in Michigan.
The legislation would increase from $1 million to $2.5 million the maximum fine for the most serious violations involving deaths, injuries or major environmental harm, the Department of Transportation said. It also would pay for an additional 40 inspectors and safety regulators over the next four years.
The proposal follows several accidents, including last week's huge gas explosion in suburban San Bruno, that have called attention to the nation's aging pipelines and how they are monitored. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department "needs stronger authority to ensure the continued safety and reliability of our nation's pipeline network."
The department's proposal would eliminate exemptions from safety regulations for pipelines that gather hazardous liquids upstream of transmission pipelines, DOT said. It also would authorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates interstate pipeline safety, to collect additional data on pipelines, including information on previously unregulated lines, the department said. And, it would provide for improved coordination with states and other agencies on inspector training and oversight of pipeline construction and expansion projects involving both gas and hazardous liquids pipelines.
The safety administration is part of the Transportation Department. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which was holding a hearing Wednesday on the Michigan oil spill, that the department is also crafting new regulations to enhance pipeline safety, including requiring the installation of emergency flow restricting devices on some pipelines and changing the distance between valves. The regulations would be separate from the legislative proposal.
The department is also considering extending "high consequence area" designations to additional stretches of pipeline, Porcari told the committee in prepared testimony.
The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas pipeline explosion killed at least four people in San Bruno, Calif., and destroyed nearly 40 homes. That pipeline is regulated by the state utility commission.