Environmental Defense Urges Defeat Of Weak Pipeline Safety Bill

February 7, 2001

Environmental Defense today urged defeat of the Senate pipeline bill, criticizing it as weak and ineffectual. Bypassing the normal hearing and committee process, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) scheduled the Pipeline Safety Act of 2001 (S. 235) for a “unanimous consent” vote on the floor of the Senate on February 8. A letter sent to Senators yesterday from six national environmental groups urged defeat of the bill.

“The Senate should remember that this same, do-nothing pipeline safety legislation was soundly defeated in the House last fall,” said Environmental Defense engineer Lois Epstein. “The pipeline industry wants this legislation so they can build more pipelines to address energy supply issues. But new pipelines and strong pipeline safety measures are not incompatible.”

The bill fails to ensure liability for releases, revoke unwarranted federal preemption authority in existing pipeline law, provide data to communities on pipelines along with processes for public input into pipeline operations, and eliminate onerous cost-benefit analysis requirements for the federal pipeline office.

When an El Paso Natural Gas Co. pipeline exploded last summer in New Mexico, 12 campers died, one of eight natural gas pipelines serving California was severed, and natural gas spot prices soared. This interstate natural gas pipeline explosion, one year after three young people died in an interstate gasoline pipeline rupture in Washington state, presented Congress with the urgent need for stricter regulation and oversight of our nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

Approximately four major pipeline accidents causing death, injury, and/or property damage greater than $50,000 occur each week, according to a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report. Since 1990, there have been 243 deaths associated with pipelines. GAO also found that major accidents are increasing by approximately 4% annually, at the same time that the federal Office of Pipeline Safety’s (OPS) fines against the industry are declining. Currently, only one in 25 violators receives a proposed fine. Oil pipelines spill over 6 million gallons annually, more than half the size of the Exxon Valdez release, and average spill size has been increasing since 1993 to over 44,000 gallons in 1999.