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S. 2276 (114th): PIPES Act of 2016

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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 3, 2016.

Securing America's Future Energy: Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act or the SAFE PIPES Act

(Sec. 2) This bill reauthorizes through FY2019 the gas and hazardous liquid pipeline and related programs of the Department of Transportation (DOT), including emergency response grants, one-call notification programs, state damage prevention programs, community pipeline safety information grants, and the pipeline integrity program.

(Sec. 3) DOT shall make periodic updates on a public website about the status of a final rule for required pipeline safety regulations for which no interim final rule or direct final rule has been issued, and any other significant pipeline safety rulemaking.

(Sec. 4) The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) shall rescind a June 26, 2015, interpretative letter requiring placards on flammable hazardous materials (hazmat) carriers to be changed to represent the lowest flash point of the particular type of fuel transported during each shipment.

The PHMSA shall reinstate previous regulations which provided that, as long as carriers do not transport a fuel with a lower flash point than the placard states, they shall not have to change the placard or purchase adjustable placards.

(Sec. 5) The PHMSA shall prioritize the use of Office of Pipeline Safety resources for the development of each such outstanding pipeline safety statutory requirement, including requirements for rulemakings and information collection requests, for a rulemaking before beginning any new rulemaking required after enactment of this bill unless DOT certifies to Congress a significant need to move forward with a new rulemaking.

(Sec. 6) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) shall report on the natural gas integrity management and hazardous liquid integrity management programs.

(Sec. 8) Two of the individuals selected for each Technical Pipeline Safety Standards Committee and each Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee must be state officials (currently, state commissioners). DOT must consult with national organizations representing commissioners (as under current law) or governors when making such a selection.

(Sec. 9) After completion of any pipeline safety inspection, the PHMSA, or the state authority with a pipeline safety program certification, shall:

conduct a post-inspection briefing with the operator outlining concerns, and to the extent practicable, present written preliminary findings; or issue the operator a final report, notice of amendment of plans or procedures, safety order, or corrective action order. (Sec. 10) The GAO shall assess:

the feasibility of odorizing all combustible gas in transportation; the impacts of the odorization of all combustible gas in transportation on manufacturers, agriculture, and other end users; and the relative benefits and costs associated with odorizing all combustible gas in transportation, including impacts on health and safety, compared to using other methods to mitigate pipeline leaks. (Sec. 11) DOT shall study improving existing damage prevention programs through technological improvements in location, mapping, and communications practices to prevent accidental excavation damage to a pipe or its coating, including considerations of technical, operational, and economic feasibility and existing damage prevention programs.

(Sec. 12) The PHMSA shall review its staff resource management, including geographic allocation plans, hiring challenges, and expected retirement rates and strategies, and may certify at least annually the existence of any severe shortage of qualified candidates or a critical hiring need for a PHMSA position or group of positions.

The PHMSA, after making such a certification, may hire a candidate for the position or candidates for the group of positions indicated in it.

(Sec. 13) In developing a research and development program plan for pipeline facility integrity, the PHMSA shall: (1) create opportunities for joint research ventures with non-federal entities to leverage limited federal research resources; and (2) permit collaborative research and development projects with appropriate non-federal organizations.

(Sec. 14) DOT shall convene a working group to consider the development of a voluntary no-fault information sharing system to encourage collaborative efforts to improve inspection information feedback and information sharing regarding natural gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipeline integrity risk analysis.

(Sec. 15) DOT shall:

report on the feasibility of a national integrated pipeline safety regulatory inspection database to improve communication and collaboration between the PHMSA and state pipeline regulators; and issue minimum uniform safety standards incorporating consensus standards for the operation, environmental protection, and integrity management of underground natural gas storage facilities (such as depleted hydrocarbon, aquifer, or solution mined salt cavern reservoirs), for the operation of which a user fee shall apply. (Sec. 17) DOT shall allow for a state authority with a pipeline safety program certification, at its request, to participate in the inspection of an interstate pipeline facility.

DOT may also grant temporary authority for a certified state authority to participate in oversight of interstate pipeline safety transportation to ensure proper safety oversight and prevent an adverse impact on public safety.

(Sec. 18) In preparing or reviewing a response plan for an onshore pipeline, the PHMSA and an operator shall each address the impact of a worst-case discharge of hazardous liquid, or the substantial threat of one, into or on any navigable waters or adjoining shorelines that may be covered in whole or in part by ice.

(Sec. 19) DOT shall revise certain regulations to state explicitly that the Great Lakes are a USA ecological resource for purposes of determining whether a pipeline is in a high consequence area.

(Sec. 20) The GAO shall report on the staffing, resource allocation, oversight strategy, and management of the Transportation Security Administration's pipeline security program and other surface transportation programs.

(Sec. 21) DOT shall prescribe minimum safety standards for small scale permanent intrastate liquefied natural gas facilities (other than peak shaving facilities) that produce liquefied natural gas for use as a fuel in the United States or for transportation in the United States by a means other than a pipeline facility.

(Sec. 22) The PHMSA shall report to Congress on the metrics provided to it and to other federal and state agencies related to lost and unaccounted for natural gas from distribution pipelines and systems.

(Sec. 23) The GAO shall conduct a state-by-state review of state-level policies that:

encourage the repair and replacement of leaking natural gas distribution pipelines or systems that pose a safety threat, such as timelines to repair leaks and limits on cost recovery from ratepayers; and may create barriers for entities to conduct work to repair and replace leaking natural gas pipelines or distribution systems. (Sec. 24) The PHMSA shall give the Chairperson or Ranking Member of an appropriate congressional committee, upon request, a uniquely identifiable, unredacted copy of an oil spill response plan.

Any information subject to exclusion from a response plan shall be afforded appropriate protection against unauthorized public disclosure, consistent with the rules and practices related to the protection of confidential information received by Congress.

Such excluded information comprises:

proprietary information; security-sensitive information; specific response resources and tactical resource deployment plans; and the specific amount and location of worst case discharges, including the process by which an owner or operator determines the worst case discharge. (Sec. 25) The PHMSA shall consult with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during its pre-filing procedures and permitting process for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure to ensure the protection of people and the environment from the risks of hazmat transportation.

(Sec. 26) The bill revises DOT authority to withhold any part of a payment from a state authority under a state pipeline safety grant if the state authority is not maintaining a satisfactory effort to carry out a safety program or is not acting satisfactorily as an agent.

(Sec. 27) DOT shall lead and establish an Aliso Canyon Task Force to:

analyze the cause and contributing factors of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak; analyze measures taken to stop the leak; assess the impact of the leak on health, safety, the environment, and the economy of the residents and property surrounding Aliso Canyon, on wholesale and retail electricity prices, and on the reliability of the bulk-power system; analyze how federal, state, and local agencies responded to the leak; recommend how to improve the response to a future leak and coordination between all appropriate federal, state, and local agencies in response to the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak and future natural gas leaks; analyze the potential for a similar leak to occur at other underground natural gas storage facilities in the United States; recommend how to prevent any future natural gas leaks; recommend whether to continue operations at Aliso Canyon and other underground storage facilities in close proximity to residential populations based on an assessment of the risk of a future natural gas leak; and recommend information that is not currently collected but that would be in the public interest to collect and distribute to agencies and institutions for the continued study and monitoring of natural gas storage infrastructure in the United States.