Judge Allows Pipeline Lawsuit to Move Forward
Texas, USA
December 27, 2002

An East Texas federal judge has allowed a lawsuit against a natural gas pipeline company to move forward, ruling that federal regulators failed to diligently pursue allegations of widespread safety violations.

The case involves more than 8,000 miles of pipeline, stretching from South Texas to the Florida panhandle, owned and operated by Houston-based Gulf South Pipeline Co. LP, a subsidiary of Entergy-Koch LP.

Joseph Wyble, who owns 36 acres in Trinity County, and other landowners who sued contend that corrosion, overgrown rights of way, exposed sections of pipe and other conditions violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act. The plaintiffs also argue that the U.S. Department of Transportation, which regulates pipelines, has failed to require corrective action.

In an order this month, U.S. District Judge John Hannah Jr. of Lufkin said there was "sufficient evidence to conclude that the DOT failed to fulfill its mandate and did not diligently pursue plaintiffs' allegations." The allegations were submitted to the Transportation Department two months before the lawsuit was filed.

Congress recognized the "limited means" of the department and its Office of Pipeline Safety and allowed for citizen lawsuits in such circumstances, Hannah said. The DOT did not comment on the lawsuit but spokesman James Mitchell said that 26 federal pipeline inspectors have been added to a roster of about 90 in the past year. The department is trying to hire 15 more. "We've seen more resources put to pipeline inspections in the Bush administration than in the prior seven years," Mitchell said in Friday's editions of the Austin American-Statesman.

The goal of the litigation is to compel Gulf South to make improvements, said Fred Misko Jr., one of several lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

It would be several hundred million dollars to come into compliance," Misko said. tephanie Goodman, director of corporate communications for Gulf South, called the allegations "seriously flawed." Also, we don't believe there's any factual or legal basis for the claim. And we remain confident that when the merits of the claim are heard, we will prevail on the merits," Goodman said.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent people who live on or own property along the pipeline system. The landowners contend that the pipelines have been neglected for years because of a management philosophy that puts profit above safety. They say that policy dates to the early 1990s, when the pipeline system was known as Koch Gateway, a unit of Koch Industries Inc. of Wichita, Kan. The name was changed in 2001 to Gulf South, which then became part of Entergy-Koch LP, a joint venture of Koch Industries and Entergy Corp. of New Orleans.

Koch is not a defendant in this lawsuit, company spokesman Mark Palazzo said. He said the same attorneys filed two other lawsuits that contained many of the same allegations about Koch and both of those cases were dismissed. "The allegations about our company raised in this lawsuit are not only inaccurate and misleading, they are based on events that occurred as long as 12 years ago and have been litigated and resolved," Palazzo said.

In recent years, the company paid a record $30 million fine and agreed to step up inspections, testing and leak detection for its pipelines that carry liquids to settle federal charges that about 300 leaks polluted water resources in six states, including Texas.

Copyright Time Daily. Florence, Alabama
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