News Releases

Mr. President, at the start of this session, I've come to the floor to introduce a bill that will improve the safety of all Americans by raising the safety standards on the oil and gas pipelines that run through many communities.

Today, I'm introducing the Pipeline Safety Act of 2000.

Until recently, like most Americans, I wasn't aware of the potential safety hazards that pipelines can pose. These pipelines stretch across America. They run under our homes and near our schools and offices. Nationwide, the Office of Pipeline Safety oversees more than 157,000 miles of underground pipeline which transport hazardous liquids and more than 2.2 million miles of pipelines which transport natural gas. They perform a very important and vital service -- bringing oil and essential products to our homes and businesses. I rarely heard about them, like most of you, so I assumed they were safe.

But that assumption changed for me and many others when there was a deadly pipeline accident in my home state of Washington. And the more I learned about how pipelines are regulated in the United States -- the more concerned I became.

Today, seven months after that disaster in Bellingham, I am here on the Senate floor with a bill that takes the lessons of pipeline disasters and turns them into law -- so that these tragedies will not happen again.

Mr. President, on June 10th, in Bellingham, Washington, on a quiet, sunny afternoon, a gasoline pipeline ruptured -- releasing more than a quarter of a million gallons of gasoline into Whatcom Creek. That gas ignited -- sending a huge fireball racing down the creek -- destroying everything in its path for more than a mile. That dramatic explosion killed three young people, who happened to be playing by the creek. It created a plume of smoke which rose more than twenty-thousand feet in the air. This photo behind me was taken just moments after the explosion. One minute, it was a quiet residential area and the next moment a disaster.

Besides the tragic loss of these three young lives, this explosion caused horrendous environmental damage. In fact, I was scheduled to be at this exact site just a few weeks later to dedicate a newly-restored salmon spawning ground. When I saw the damage a short time after the explosion, I was frankly shocked. Take a look at these pictures. This was before the explosion where we were going to dedicate a salmon creek spawning ground. This is afterward. As you can see, this explosion destroyed all the plant and animal life in the creek. A once lush and diverse habitat was turned to ashes.

Mr. President, the explosion also had a serious impact on our entire community. Neighbors could not sleep at night, and young children -- still to this day -- panic during lightening storms. And, of course, three families -- who lost their children -- will never be the same.

Mr. President, as I researched this issue, I learned that what happened in my state was not unique -- in fact -- it wasn't even rare. According to the Office of Pipeline Safety, since 1986, there have been more than 5,500 incidents, resulting in 310 deaths and 1,500 injuries. Those 5,500 incidents also caused nearly a billion dollars in property damage. On average, our nation suffers one pipeline accident every day.

Clearly, this is a national problem -- requiring a national solution. This chart shows some of the major pipeline accidents since 1981. This chart only shows the accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board -- not all 5,500. As you can see, these disasters can happen anywhere -- in anyone's neighborhood, in anyone's community, close to anybody's school, close to anybody's place of work. And they have devastating results.

While the pipeline industry -- by and large -- does a good job of safely delivering the fuel we need to heat our homes and drive our cars, there are some examples where they failed to protect the public.

According to a New York Times article from January 14th of this year -- I quote --

"One of the nation's largest pipeline operators quit inspecting its lines for much of the 1990's and instead found flaws by waiting for the pipes to break. . . .Koch Industries. . . agreed to pay a fine of $30 million -- the largest civil environmental penalty to date."

That company's behavior resulted in leaks of three million gallons of crude oil, gasoline and other products in 300 separate incidents in the last nine years.

Mr. President, we can't just rely on the industry to police itself. As this example showed, one company decided it was cheaper to wait for accidents to happen, than to take steps to prevent them. The time has come to raise the standards for pipeline safety.

Mr. President, too often the public is left in the dark. Neighbors don't know they live near pipelines. Schools and communities aren't told when there are problems with a pipeline. The time has come to expand the public's right to know about the pipelines that run near their homes.

And too often pipeline operators don't have the training or experience they need to handle emergencies. Sometimes their actions cause accidents, and many times they make these disasters even worse. We should certify pipeline inspectors so we will know they have the training they need. In fact in 1992, Congress passed a law requiring certification of pipeline operators. But a few years later, that requirement was repealed. That's a mistake we need to correct, and today, the need for qualified, certified operators is even greater.

Mr. President, too often there aren't enough resources to oversee the industry or to carry out vital safety programs. The time has come to put resources behind these new standards.

Mr. President, the time has come to reduce the risks pipelines pose, and the bill I'm introducing today does just that. Here are some of the key provisions of my bill:

First, my bill will expand state authority to give states more control over pipeline safety standards. It's time to make states equal partners when it comes to pipeline safety. States should be able to use their knowledge of local conditions and circumstances to increase safety. States should be able to set up even more stringent standards than the federal government in areas like: requiring additional training and education of inspectors and operators; allowing states to require additional leak detection devices; allowing states to certify procedures and responses to accidents, and allowing states to enforce safety regulations.

While some new state authority gives the Secretary of Transportation the discretion to allow states to regulate, it is my intent that the Secretary work aggressively at accomplishing these partnerships in the way I outline in my bill.

I also strongly support efforts to better equip states as they respond to accidents. This involves better coordination between state and federal agencies so that police, fire and emergency medical personnel will be better able to respond to any pipeline disasters. The federal government should also encourage states to work more closely with pipeline companies on prevention.

Second, my bill will improve inspection practices. We need to develop guidelines and requirements for the internal and external inspection of pipelines. Current law only requires that pipelines be inspected internally when they are new and being used for the first time. My bill requires pipeline companies to periodically inspect their pipelines internally and externally and report those findings to federal and state authorities, as well as the public. My bill also requires pipeline companies to take action if they uncover any problems.

Third, my bill will strengthen the public's "Right to Know." Currently the public does not have the right to know about spills and problems with pipelines. My bill would require pipeline companies to disclose problems with the pipeline and what the company is doing to fix them. It would require pipeline companies to report to the public any spill and also to report the results of the periodic testing I am proposing.

Fourth, my bill will improve the quality of pipeline operators. Current law allows companies to determine if their own operator is "qualified" to work on a pipeline. My bill would place the government in the position of determining whether the companies' assessment is accurate. We wouldn't want an airline pilot flying a plane unless the FAA determined he was qualified. Similarly, we should require the Office of Pipeline Safety to review and certify the qualifications of pipeline operators.

Finally, my bill will increase funding to improve safety. We should increase funding for research that will help us improve the devices that inspect pipelines and detect leaks. We should also increase grant programs to state agencies that regulate and monitor pipelines. This should be a partnership that recognizes both the state and federal responsibility in making pipelines safer.

Mr. President, I'm proud to introduce this bill today because I know it's the right thing to do. This has been a long process, and I've received a lot of cooperation. Specifically, I would like to thank U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, the Office of Pipeline Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board, the City of Bellingham, my colleagues in the Senate, our governor Gary Locke, other federal and state agencies, and industry representatives.

Senator Gorton, my colleague from Washington state, is well aware of the importance of this issue, and I look forward to his continued input on this as well.

I'm also looking forward to working with my colleagues in the House -- specifically Representatives Inslee, Metcalf, and Baird -- who have expressed an interest and have been working on this issue as well.

Mr. President, this bill will raise safety standards so that every family that lives near a pipeline can sleep soundly at night. This accident should not happen again. The time has come to take the lessons of this tragedy and put them into law -- so we can reduce the odds of another disaster. We have a responsibility to do it, this bill gives us the tools to do it, and I hope all of my colleagues in the Senate will support this effort.

# # #