Pipeline Safety Legislation in Senate for the Great Lakes

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow today introduced a package of bills that would increase pipeline safety in and around the Great Lakes and account for the unique needs of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The bills announced today would raise liability caps for Great Lakes pipeline operators; expand and clarify U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s authority to suspend or shut down unsafe oil pipelines; strengthen federal review of oil spill response plans; increase transparency surrounding oil spill response and clean up plans; and create a Center for Expertise in the Great Lakes region to study freshwater oil spills.

Michigan Environmental Council President Chris Kolb praised the pipeline safety legislation introduced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.

“The only way to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac is to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline as quickly as possible. Until that happens, the public deserves better information about the pipeline, and Enbridge must be held to higher standards, including increasing the company’s liability to reflect the unthinkable economic and environmental costs of an oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Kolb.

“The Great Lakes ecosystem is unlike any other in the world, and many existing pipeline safety rules and regulations do not adequately protect this precious resource from a disastrous oil spill,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “Senator Stabenow and I are working together to hold Great Lakes pipeline operators to the highest standards and help protect against the catastrophic consequences of a worst-case spill that would endanger our environment and the multi-billion shipping, tourism and fishing industries supported by the Great Lakes.”

“We cannot allow another devastating pipeline break like the one that dumped a million gallons of oil in to the Kalamazoo River in 2010,” said Senator Stabenow. “The bills we are announcing today will help protect the Great Lakes and other areas in Michigan from future spills by requiring stronger safeguards and oversight of oil pipelines.”

The provisions Peters and Stabenow introduced include:
Increasing liabilities for oil spill clean-up and damages: Pipelines crossing the Great Lakes, including Enbridge’s Line 5 underneath the Straits of Mackinac, are currently classified as “onshore” despite crossing through miles of open water and are thus held to less stringent regulatory standards than offshore pipelines. The Peters-Stabenow bill would create a special classification for Great Lakes pipelines so they are held to the same stringent liability standards as offshore pipelines, meaning operators would be responsible for covering all oil spill clean up costs, up to $133.65 million in economic damages and providing proof of financial ability.

Last year, Senators Peters and Stabenow sent a letter to former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx urging him to classify pipelines crossing the Great Lakes as offshore.

Expanding DOT emergency authority to shut down pipelines:
This legislation will build on legislation signed into law last year expanding the Secretary of Transportation’s emergency authority to shutdown pipelines in the case of an unsafe conditions. This would include a violation of established operating conditions; inadequate capabilities to respond to a potential incident; or inadequate financial resources to cover costs associated with clean-up and damages for a potential incident.

U.S. Coast Guard and EPA review of oil spill response plans:
This Stabenow-Peters bill would require both the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA – the two primary federal agencies responsible for oil spill response and clean up – to review oil pipeline operator response plans that are submitted to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). Currently, both agencies have the option to review these plans but are not required to by law.

Increasing transparency: Currently, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is responsible for collecting, reviewing, and storing pieces of information from pipeline operators – such as facility response plans – that are available through cumbersome and costly Freedom of Information Act requests. Under the new legislation, PHMSA would be required to make facility response plans available online, where they can be more easily reviewed, while still protecting propriety and sensitive security information through exclusion at the Secretary of Transportation’s discretion.

U.S. Coast Guard Center for Expertise for Great Lakes: Last week, the Commerce Committee passed Peters-led amendment to create a U.S. Coast Guard Center of Expertise in the Great Lakes focused on studying the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments. Most current oil spill response technologies were developed for saltwater environments and are less effective in freshwater. The Coast Guard has previously established several Centers of Expertise (COEs) on topics ranging from liquefied gas shipping to towing vessel issues to offshore safety.

“The bills introduced by Senators Peters and Stabenow will increase transparency and federal scrutiny of Line 5 and will help to improve the safety of pipelines across Michigan. We applaud Senators Peters and Stabenow for their continued leadership as we work to get this pipeline out of the Great Lakes, where it never should have been built,” said Kolb.

These actions build on previous efforts by Senators Peters and Stabenow to increase pipeline safety in the Great Lakes. In 2015, Peters and Stabenow introduced legislation to strengthen pipeline oversight and improve response plans for oil spills under ice-covered waters. These provisions were included in the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act, or PIPES Act, which was signed into law by President Obama last year.

JD Sullivan

JD Sullivan is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Green Action News. He has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. JD is passionate about journalism & sustainable living.

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