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Administrator Elliott: Partisanship holding back pipeline safety


Ensuring our nation’s pipelines are protected, and our energy resources are safely delivered has long-been a bipartisan priority of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In 2012 then-Chairman Fred Upton and the late Rep. John Dingell worked together to reauthorize the nation’s pipeline safety laws. In 2016, in a divided government, Upton was back at it—and, once again, Republicans and Democrats worked together to ensure a bipartisan pipeline safety bill was passed.

Now, in 2020, that precedent and progress appears to be slipping away—despite dogged efforts of Energy and Commerce Republican Leader Greg Walden and Energy Subcommittee Republican Leader Fred Upton.

The United States is the world’s global energy superpower and we must modernize our infrastructure. This includes the 2.8 million miles of pipelines that literally moves the energy we all use in our homes, places of work, and all throughout our lives.

Howard “Skip” Elliott, the fifth Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), lays out how partisanship is delaying necessary action to ensure pipeline safety.

You can read the full op-ed here.

Partisanship holding back pipeline safety

By: Howard “Skip” Elliott

February 27, 2020

Not very long ago, the expectations for the bill to reauthorize the pipeline safety programs of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) were summarized by one energy sector reporter as a “bill that many thought would breeze through Congress.”

Recent reauthorization bills covering pipeline safety have been passed with not only bipartisan, but near unanimous support. This year, there seems little chance of that happening, which is unfortunate for such an important and far-reaching safety topic and for the agency charged by Congress with overseeing the safe operations of the nation’s pipeline network.

This is also particularly worrying when the programs being considered are aimed at ensuring that the transport of energy products and other hazardous materials not only proceeds safely, but gets even safer. For obvious reasons, the safety of the nation’s pipeline system should reside above partisan causes.

Ensuring the safety of our nation’s pipeline system is a challenge with three inescapable elements: it is very large, very complicated, and very, very important.

Large because the network consists of 2.8 million miles of pipelines – far longer than any other country.

Complicated because there are many varieties of pipelines, comprised of different materials, carrying different products, operating at various maximum allowable pressures, constructed in different eras, and subject to different atmospheric, seismic, corrosion-based, and other types of threats.

Very, very important because while the industry record shows pipeline-delivered products reaching their destinations safely more than 99.997 percent of the time, that we should not be satisfied with anything less than a perfect safety record.

PHMSA respectfully asks that it be granted the ability to effectively plan for ensuring the safe operation of the 2.8 million miles of pipelines that are under its purview. We are eager to accept the responsibility for doing our job and continue to demonstrate our resolve by publishing five important rules mandated by Congress just within the last four months. But we cannot continue to improve our nation’s pipeline safety until members of Congress put partisanship aside and pass a new authorization bill.

Howard “Skip” Elliott was sworn in as the fifth Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following his unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 5, 2017.

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