U.S. House approves pipeline safety bill
For almost three years, Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson constantly hopped the red-eye flight to Washington, D.C., and spoke with seeming futility about the need for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass meaningful pipeline safety legislation.
His efforts bore fruit on Tuesday.
The House overwhelmingly approved a strong bill that allows states to regulate interstate pipelines, increase inspections and testing requirements, and bumps up the penalties for violating the law.
The House version will go to a conference committee to be reconciled with a similar bill in the Senate that was co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Proponents such as Asmundson didn't get all they wanted, but Rep. Rick Larson, D-Wash, called it a compromise with bipartisan support that will go a long way toward making communities safer. As much as anyone, Asmundson said he knew the need for a tougher law. It was in his community in June 1999 that a leak in an Olympic Pipe Line Co. pipeline sent gasoline down a creek bed and ignited. A young man and two children perished.
Since then, Asmundson and a number of other Washington community leaders have been working to improve safety along the pipeline, which traverses Snohomish County through some populated areas.
It's not a perfect bill, the mayor said.
"No bill gives you everything you want, and this bill isn't perfect. But it is a good, solid step forward," Asmundson said Tuesday.
The mayor gave credit to Larsen, who made pipeline safety a priority in his campaign for office two years ago.
"This bill was going nowhere probably a month and a half ago, and Congressman Larsen worked very tenaciously to find common ground and improve the bill," Asmundson said. "I'm delighted."
State Rep. Aaron Reardon, D-Everett, said he's also pleased. Reardon worked with Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, and others to sponsor state pipeline legislation. But before the legislation could have much effect, the federal government needed to allow states to regulate interstate pipelines.
Both the House and Senate versions of the federal legislation allows that.
"That's the crux of the situation. We know our geographies better, we know our systems better. We have people on the ground and can respond in a more timely manner," Reardon said.
He's also pleased by an amendment Larsen sponsored to provide $6 million over each of the next three years for states and local governments to train emergency responders in developed areas.
Larsen said he's still not satisfied and hopes so-called community "right-to- know" provisions, which are included in the Senate version, will be in the final bill. Those provisions call for making sure local authorities and communities are aware that pipelines run through their jurisdictions.
In many cases in Snohomish County, subdivisions have been built close to existing pipelines and some residents don't know they are there.
Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel said he was looking for pipeline maps soon after the Bellingham disaster and had trouble finding any. He's pleased with the bill and likes a measure that protects whistle-blowers.
"If something is wrong with an installation, they ought to be able to say something about it without retribution," Drewel said.
Copyright The Herald of Everett, Washington