Senate Passes Pipeline Safety Reauthorization Bill

Last night, the U.S. Senate quietly passed a three-year pipeline safety reauthorization bill (S. 2299) by unanimous consent, without debate. (The bill is technically a four-year reauthorization bill, but the first year of those four is fiscal year 2020, of which more than ten months have now expired and which will probably be over by the time the bill becomes law.)

The version of the bill that passed the Senate (text here) was not the same as the version of the bill that was reported by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee almost six months ago (text here). In order to get the unanimous consent of all 100 Senators to pass the bill in the low-profile end-of-day wrap-up, the Senate adopted a substitute amendment by Commerce chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) that made the following changes to the reported bill:

  • Struck section 103, which would have provided a user fee increase on underground natural gas storage facilities.
  • Added a new section requiring the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Transportation Administration (PHMSA) to issue a final rule requiring the operators of regulated pipelines and of gathering lines in Class 2, 3 or 4 locations to conduct leak detection and repair programs to protect both public safety and the environment.
  • Added a new section requiring pipeline operators to put leak detection in their inspection and maintenance plans.
  • Added a new section requiring PHMSA to review all comments, and make a determination, within one year of enactment, whether to proceed with a rulemaking, on its July 2018 ANPRM on class location change requirements.
  • Added a new section expanding whistleblower protections, including making former employees eligible, and allowing lawsuits for de novo review of unjust firing allegations in the event the Labor Department does not decide a case within 210 days.
  • Added a new section authorizing the AAR railroad testing facility in Pueblo, Colorado to be used for hazmat transportation safety improvement research and development.
  • Added a new section requiring USDOT to update its drug and alcohol testing rules “to improve the efficiency and processes of those regulations as applied to– (1) operators; and (2) pipeline contractors working for multiple operators in multiple States.”
  • Added a new section providing that nothing in the bill affects the authority of the EPA, Interior Department, or a state government to regulate the release of pollution.

The Senate bill now heads to the House, where pipeline safety reauthorization legislation has been on hold for eight months.

Generally speaking, in Congress, the transportation committees have jurisdiction over transportation, and the energy committees have jurisdiction over energy.

But pipelines are the transportation of energy.

In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up and approved its pipeline safety bill (H.R. 5120) in November 2019.  But they never filed a report on the bill, and that may be because that once a committee files a report on the bill, other committees can ask for the bill to be sequentially referred to that committee for the consideration of provisions within their jurisdiction.

And the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up and approved its own competing version of a pipeline safety bill (H.R. 3432) in November 2019 as well, but they also have never filed their report, likely for the same reasons.

The most likely outcome is that, now that the Senate has passed a bill, the staffs of the House T&I Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee will sit down with the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee and try to pre-negotiate a final bill that will be acceptable to all parties, which the House could then pass as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to S. 2299, in the hopes that the final version could then get unanimous consent to clear the Senate again, and head to the President’s desk, by the end of the year.

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