Pipeline bill may hit delay

The Republican takeover of the House has dealt a setback to a local congresswoman’s bill aimed at strengthening the regulation and oversight of natural-gas pipelines in response to the deadly explosion in San Bruno.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, said leadership changes in Congress will likely delay any movement on the Pipeline Safety and Community Empowerment Act. She introduced the bill in response to the Sept. 9 PG&E transmission line blast that killed eight and destroyed 35 homes.

Among its provisions, the bill would require pipeline operators to install automatic or remote shut-off valves, notify property owners about transmission lines near their homes, conduct internal corrosion inspections of pipelines at least every five years and disclose emergency response plans to regulators.

Speier said she had hoped the House’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials would hold a hearing on the bill during the lame-duck session that runs through the end of 2010.

But because the Democratic chairman of the transportation committee, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, will be replaced after losing his re-election bid, Speier said any hearing requests will have to be taken up with a new Republican chairman early next year.

Regardless, Speier said pipeline safety is an issue that cuts across partisan lines.

“I think, in the end, once we can make the case that these transmission pipelines are throughout the country — in districts Republican and Democratic alike — there will be a growing interest in wanting to address it,” Speier said.

She said utilitiey companies also recognize the need to tackle the issue.

“I’m sure PG&E’s making it crystal clear to any utility that inquires that this is nothing to gamble on,” Speier said.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced similar legislation in the Senate after the San Bruno disaster, the cause of which is still under investigation.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Romans said the utility is supporting Speier’s bill and is looking to “proactively take our own steps to do some of the things that are being proposed through legislation and regulation.”

Romans pointed to the “Pipeline 2020” program, the plan the company announced last month to upgrade pipelines in populated areas, install more automatic or remote shut-off valves and develop improved pipeline inspection tools.

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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