Integrity Management Expansion Stirs Controversy In Congress

November 2011, Vol. 66 No. 11

Two House committees are attempting to combine slightly different pipeline safety bills while Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is preventing a Senate vote on a bill passed by the Commerce Committee last May. All three bills are moderate, and make changes around the edges of current law, both with regard to natural gas and oil pipelines.

"Congress is not overreaching or posturing," says Robert Hogfoss, a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP, a firm with a large natural gas legal practice.

The most controversial issue is a provision in one of the House bills and the Senate bill which would allow the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to expand integrity management requirements outside high consequence areas (HCAs), without congressional approval. Sen. Paul is holding up consideration of the bill on the Senate side because of this perceived potential expansion of federal regulatory authority. His press secretary did not return a phone call.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee in the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, feels the same way. The bill passed by that committee is called the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2845). It requires congressional approval of PHMSA expansion of integrity management requirements to new areas.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act (H.R. 2937). It allows PHMSA to act without congressional approval, after considering a number of factors enumerated in that bill, such as: "the continuing priority to enhance protections for public safety" and "the continuing importance of reducing risk in high consequence areas . . ."

Martin Edwards, vice president at INGAA, says the group supports expansion of IM programs beyond HCAs and that in fact the industry, on its own, voluntarily, is already doing so.

Because pipeline safety is mostly a Department of Transportation issue, the T&I Committee will have its bill voted on in the House, which may happen before the end of 2011. The House Rules Committee may add some of the E&C language to the bill before the House votes. The big issue will be the differences in language in the two bills on expansion of integrity management. "We have 80 conservative Republicans in the House who want smaller government and want to reduce regulation," says one House staffer.