Pipeline safety bill moves ahead after lawmakers strengthen it
By Charles Pope

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
23 May, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A House committee yesterday easily approved pipeline safety legislation after it was substantially rewritten to address concerns that it was too weak.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was approved 55-13 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The vote reflected the bill's gathering momentum as it moves closer to the House floor.

"All things considered, this amended pipeline safety bill is a strong bill that reflects a lot of priorities of people in my district," said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who has spearheaded efforts to pass a bill this year.

Larsen, whose district includes Bellingham, where a pipeline explosion in 1999 killed three people, said the bill has been remarkably strengthened over the last week.

A sign of the change came as 18 Democrats, including Brian Baird of Washington, supported the bill. Democrats opposed earlier versions, claiming they were too weak and did too little to protect people who live near pipelines.

Those concerns subsided as a series of amendments that Democrats supported were quickly adopted.

The changes included provisions requiring all pipelines to be thoroughly tested within 10 years of the bill becoming law and reinspected within seven years after that.

The original bill had no deadline for inspections, while Larsen and Democrats generally want all pipelines to be inspected within five years.

The bill also includes stronger protections for whistle-blowers who alert regulators to potential problems, and requirements that pipeline operators meet minimum training standards.

It would also increase fines for pipeline operators who violate regulations, and would provide for state and local agencies to take part in regulating the 2 million miles of pipelines binding the nation.

The changes added yesterday came on the heels of those inserted last week by a House subcommittee. Taken together, those steps bring the House bill closer to one passed last year by the Senate.

One amendment that was turned aside would have required pipeline operators to provide more detailed information to the public about the condition of a pipeline, its location and any violations of safety regulations.

Opponents, led by the committee's Republicans, argued that national security would be affected if that information were made public. "Too much information can create an attraction for terrorists," Young said.

Democrats disagreed, insisting that much of the information is already public and that people living near pipelines have a right to know details about a potentially dangerous and nearby operation.

"If terrorists are ingenious enough to fly airplanes into buildings they're ingenious enough to find these pipelines," Larsen said.

The bill now moves to another House committee where approval is expected.

It then moves to the House floor and, if approved, will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill.

Copyright 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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