Washington Watch

With congressional funding of the state revolving funds likely to continue to decline, water infrastructure groups are pushing an alternative funding mechanism -- meant to serve as a supplement to the SRFs, not a replacement -- called a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Fund.

Obama administration budget requests for fiscal 2013 for key pipeline regulatory and construction programs are working their way through congressional appropriation committees. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) would receive new funding for additional inspectors, allowing the agency to do more intensive inspections of pipeline safety.

With Congress having passed a pipeline safety bill last December, you'd think the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has plenty to do implementing that law during 2012.

Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The One-Call and excavation damage provisions included in the new pipeline safety bill passed by Congress in December will trigger a number of state and federal responses in 2012. However, a rule allowing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to impose civil penalties on excavators -- ordered by the 2006 pipeline safety bill but never finalized -- would be even more significant. A proposed rule moving that requirement forward is expected this year, finally, perhaps as early as this winter.

Natural gas transmission companies are very unhappy with the EPA's decision to tighten industry air emission limits. A consent decree signed by the EPA requires the agency to revise both New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) for the natural gas industry, including for pipelines, by the end of February. Those are two separate EPA regulatory programs.

The pipeline safety bill President Obama signed in December gives PHMSA new latitude to expand integrity management requirements and require new industry safety measures such as automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves.

The Federal Communications Commission is setting aside $300 million in 2012 as a down payment for phone companies in rural areas to build wireline broadband connections.

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.

The pipeline safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Aug. 30 puts significant pressure on both Congress and the Obama administration to respond to the problems discovered as part of the NTSB investigation of the PG&E San Bruno explosion in December 2010.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has picked up the pro-union cudgel from Democrats in Congress. In the last session of Congress, Democrats had tried and failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which would have expanded union organizing rights.

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