Senate passes higher safety standards for pipelines

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Senate has passed a bill reauthorizing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and boosting pipeline safety and oversight, including a designation for the Great Lakes that will subject them to higher standards for operating safety.

The legislation, which passed the chamber by unanimous voice vote Thursday, included provisions introduced by Michigan Sens. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing that would require federal reviews of pipeline age and integrity.

The bill, known as the SAFE PIPES Act, also would direct pipeline operators and federal regulators to consider updating response plans for spills affecting waters or shorelines covered by ice, another concern in the Great Lakes region.

The U.S. Coast Guard has said the region is not prepared for a major discharge spill under solid ice, and its response would be challenged by ice-choked waters.

“I’m pleased that the Senate passed this critical legislation with unanimous bipartisan support,” said Peters, a member of the Great Lakes Task Force.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to get this bill signed into law so that we can advance safety standards, improve ice cover response plans, and better protect against the devastating impacts an oil spill would have on our waterways and our way of life.”

Peters introduced the bill last fall with Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; and Steve Daines, R-Montana.

Oil pipelines such as the pair owned by Enbridge running beneath the Straits of Mackinac have drawn greater scrutiny since the rupture of an Enbridge pipeline near Marshall five years ago resulted in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The bill reauthorizes the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration through 2019 and increases funding levels for the agency by 2 percent annually over four years, so that the agency has more resources for oversight activities.

The legislation also contains provisions to streamline hiring for agency inspectors for a year to expedite hiring for understaffed positions, according to a bill summary.

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