News Releases

Thank you for that kind introduction and good morning! I'm thrilled to be here. This is such an important conference. This is an opportunity for those of us who care about making pipelines safer to come together, to learn from each other, and to make progress in Congress.

I know many of you have come a great distance to be here -- especially those of you from Washington state. And I want to thank you for being here today and for making a commitment to improving pipeline safety.

Of course, the real test of this conference will be what type of impact we have on Capitol Hill, and that's why this morning I'd like to update you on legislation in the Senate and talk about what you can do to help pass a pipeline safety law this year.

I'd like to start by thanking our hosts: the National Pipeline Reform Coalition, SAFE Bellingham, and the Cascade Columbia Alliance for bringing us all together. And thank you to the Environmental Defense Fund for your work on this event.

I became involved in pipeline safety when I got a call on June 10 from my sister, a school teacher, who lives in Bellingham, Washington. I had just gotten off a plane at the Seatac Airport, and my cell phone started ringing almost immediately. My sister said, "Patty, have you heard? Our whole world just blew up."

At first, I didn't know what she was talking about. But I was shocked as she explained that a gasoline pipeline that runs near her school had blown up. Here is a picture of that explosion.

That disaster killed three young people and caused severe environmental damage along Whatcom Creek.

Here are some pictures that show what that stream looked like before the explosion -- up top here -- and after the explosion -- on the bottom here. As you can see, what was once a lush, rich ecosystem was turned into an environmental disaster area.

In the months since the Bellingham explosion, I've learned that accidents like the one in my state are not rare. As many of you know, they are all too common. Since 1986, there have been more than 5,700 pipeline accidents, 325 deaths, 1500 injuries, and more than $850 million in environmental damage. On average there is one pipeline accident every day, and six million hazardous gallons are spilled every year.

These accidents can happen anywhere. This map shows how many pipeline accidents have been reported in each state between 1984 and 1999. The states in red had more than 70 accidents. As you can see, these accidents are happening from coast to coast. So the question is, what can we do to make our communities safer?

I know that later today, many of you will be going to Capitol Hill to meet with your members of Congress to call for safer pipelines. That is so important. Please tell them your own personal stories of how pipeline accidents have affected your community. It's especially important that you convey the importance of passing pipeline safety reforms this year. This is a short legislative session, and unless there is a strong, grassroots movement, it will be hard to pass the laws we need to pass to improve safety.

Now I would like to turn to the bill I introduced in the Senate. In preparing my bill, I looked at a lot of different ideas. I also reached out to environmentalists, industry groups, federal oversight officials, and state and local officials. My bill, which is number S.2004, is called the Pipeline Safety Act of 2000. I introduced it on January 26th. I'm pleased that Senators Inouye, Lautenberg, Gorton and Bayh have co-sponsored my bill. And I'm proud to add to that list Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who signed on as a co-sponsor last week.

To gain support for this effort, I went door-to-door and met with many of my colleagues. I told them about the accident in my state and I showed them the number of accidents that happened in their own home states. Those discussions showed me that for too long, pipeline dangers have been "out of sight, and out of mind."

I designed my bill to address five problem areas, and I'd like to spend a moment to review how my bill will address these problems.

The first way to improve pipeline safety is to give states more authority to oversee pipelines. Unfortunately, states have been virtually shut out of the process when it comes to regulating interstate pipelines. While interstate activities are the responsibility of the federal government, states should be partners in preventing and responding to accidents. Ideally, states should be able to test and inspect pipelines within their boundaries if they have the expertise and resources to do so.

My bill would make it much more difficult for the Office of Pipeline safety to disapprove or withdraw a state's pipeline oversight authority. Part of increasing state authority is enlisting the expertise and assistance of groups like yours. That's why I support greater community involvement in pipeline safety measures. After all, concerned citizens and environmental groups were sounding the alarm bells about pipeline safety long ago. You've always been ahead of the curve on pipeline safety, and your input is critical.

Another way we can reduce the risk of pipeline tragedies is to expand the public's right to know about pipeline hazards. Too many communities are in the dark about what's going on with the pipelines that run under their homes, by their places of work and near their schools.

My bill has a very strong "right to know" provision that would require operators to inform state, local, and neighboring residents when there are problems with a pipeline. My bill requires companies to provide summaries of testing and inspection data, and my bill makes them tell us what they are doing to correct problems. Current law provides the public with little opportunity to learn what is happening around them. Without new federal legislation, we'll continue to be left in the dark about possible hazards.

The next thing we can do to make pipelines safer is to improve pipeline testing. Many pipelines are decades old, and they haven't been inspected since they were first put into the ground. I find that unacceptable. I've talked to many companies that do a good job of testing their pipelines. Unfortunately, the industry has an inconsistent record.

We must ensure pipeline operators are properly testing their pipelines for corrosion, leaks and other problems. That's why we need strong testing and inspection standards. Operators must be required to take specific action when they discover problems. My bill would require periodic testing at least every five years -- with an option of more frequent testing if necessary.

As we test pipelines, we should make sure the people operating and inspecting them have the skills and training they need. In other fields affecting public safety -- such as aviation -- we have procedures in place to ensure that the people we depend on are properly trained and qualified. My bill would require individual certification of pipeline operators.

Another way to make pipelines safer is to develop the best tools to find problems in pipelines -- before those problems turn into disasters. Investing in the research and development of new testing and inspection devices may well be the best thing we could do to improve safety.

The lack of good technology is surprising. I didn't know that for many pipelines there are no devices available to do the type of testing that is needed. I was also surprised to learn that hydrostatic testing can have serious side-effects, such as stressing pipes and creating wastewater that is costly to dispose of.

Many of our most dangerous pipelines – natural gas lines – bend in ways that make it nearly impossible for any device to accurately detect internal corrosion. My bill encourages more money for research and development of inspection methods.

A final key step we must take is to make sure we have the money to improve pipeline safety. It does no good to pass new safety rules unless we also provide the money to carry them out. My bill provides funding for new state and federal pipeline safety programs. Those are the five key areas my bill will address. Now, I'd like to focus on where our efforts stand.

Well, I'm proud to say that we are making progress. And I want to share with you three tangible steps we have taken recently.

First, on the funding front, the Senate Budget Committee recently passed my amendment to commit that over the next five years our budget will fund pipeline safety measures at the levels called for in my bill.

Second, we have been waiting for the Administration to release its proposal. Two weeks ago, I met with Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, and he committed that he would send the Administration's proposal to the Hill as soon as possible. As you may know, Secretary Slater has been very responsive to the situation in Bellingham. Shortly after the explosion, he stationed a pipeline inspector in Washington state.

I'm also pleased at the way the Vice President has focused on this issue. During a recent visit to Washington state the Vice President took the time to familiarize himself with this issue and recognized its importance. He's been working to prompt the Administration to act quickly.

I'm pleased to report that the Administration has cleared the final draft of its proposal, and today the Vice President is sending it to the Hill for consideration.

Finally, we still need the Senate Commerce Committee -- which is chaired by Sen. McCain -- to hold a hearing here in Washington, D.C. to review my pipeline safety bill. Back in early February, I wrote to Sen. McCain and urged him to schedule a hearing.

I recently spoke directly with Senator McCain about the importance of his committee holding a hearing on pipeline safety as soon as possible. And this morning, I'm pleased to tell you that Sen. McCain has pledged to work with me on this issue. As he said "this is the right thing to do." I look forward to working with Senator McCain on this important issue. I think we all know that when he focuses on an issue, he can be tenacious.

So there are three areas where we are making progress. But there is still much more to do, and that's why we need you here in the Capitol.

Unfortunately, the Senate leadership has not expressed a lot of interest in pipeline safety. I recently received a note from the Majority Leader's office -- listing almost 50 bills that he has deemed "Legislative Calendar Items" which he hopes to consider prior to the August recess. Pipeline safety was not on his list.

Now, I know priority lists are flexible, and I hope we can influence the list and get a pipeline safety bill through the committee and onto the Senate floor for consideration before August. Your help will be crucial.

I'd like to close with one more statistic -- a number which illustrates why it is so important that we pass a pipeline safety bill as soon as possible. I introduced my pipeline safety bill on January 26. Since that time, there have been pipeline accidents in at least 20 states. As all of you know, we just had another a few days ago in Maryland.

The clock is ticking. More and more accidents are occurring and the only chance we having of making our communities safer is by passing a pipeline safety bill this year.

I know you are working hard on that effort. I want to encourage you to do all you can, and I want you to know that I will do all I can in the Senate. Working together, we can restore a sense of security to thousands of communities across America.

Thank you for all you are doing, and keep up the good work.

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