The Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) is up for reauthorization at the end of September of this year and, in the wake of recent high-profile incidents and increased scrutiny of the effectiveness of PHMSA pipeline safety oversight, it remains to be seen whether Congress will impose new substantive amendments to the statute or simply pass a ‘clean’ bill, approving it in its current form.  A timeline of recent events, however, reflects the increasing possibility that the reauthorization bill will contain new pipeline safety measures:

  • On June 9, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a FY2016 appropriations bill that included an amendment to earmark $1 million of PHMSA’s budget for addressing overdue mandates from Sections 4 and 8 of the 2011 PSA amendments concerning the use of automatic shutoff or remotely controlled valves and leak detection systems. [Congressional Record excerpt concerning discussion of this measure is available here, see H3856]
  • On June 16, Senator Daines (R-MT) requested that the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hold an oversight hearing on PHMSA’s reauthorization to review the Agency’s “efficacy in overseeing and enforcing federal regulations.”  No hearing date has yet been set.
  • On June 25, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote Stacy Cummings, PHMSA Interim Executive Director, and Shaun Donovan, OMB Director, requesting an update on overdue gas and hazardous liquid pipeline safety rules awaiting PHMSA and OMB action.  The letter details the numerous Congressional mandates that remain incomplete beyond the statutory deadlines and GAO recommendations that have not been addressed.  It requests that PHMSA/OMB provide an explanation of the status of these outstanding actions, as well as a schedule for their completion by July 14.
  • Also on June 25, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure sponsored by Senator Daines and his colleague, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), to require PHMSA to report on existing pipeline safety precautions along America’s major rivers.  This proposed amendment to the DOT FY 2016 funding bill – if passed – would mean that PHMSA will have to report on how it is using real-time monitoring during flood events and data from other agencies (such as the U.S. Geological Survey) to address challenges associates with rivers and flood plains.  [See Senate Committee on Appropriations Report to Accompany H.R. 2577, at p. 93, available here.] Senator Tester introduced a bill containing provisions similarly focused on pipeline river crossings and flooding in 2011 that was not ultimately enacted as part of the 2011 PSA amendments.
  • On July 7, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power announced that it will hold a pipeline safety hearing on July 14 to discuss PHMSA’s progress in implementing reforms required under the 2011 PSA amendments. Information about the hearing, including access to the public webcast and a background memo on the hearing, are available here.

Likely in response to Congressional and public pressure, and in anticipation of increased scrutiny as the reauthorization deadline draws near, PHMSA has recently issued several long overdue rulemakings, including a proposed rule on incident notifications and other topics and another proposed rule on excess flow vales on gas distribution lines issued within the past 2 weeks.