SHUSTER: Putting infrastructure before politics

Consensus approach results in safer energy pipeline grid

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Amid the gridlock and partisan rancor that has taken hold in Washington, major accomplishments that bring Republicans and Democrats together to strengthen our economy and create jobs are a rare occur- rence, unfortunately. Largely overshadowed by the political sniping over taxes and the hustle of the holiday season, Congress unanimously approved and President Obama signed into law the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 - a landmark piece of legislation that will improve an important part of America’s infrastructure and spur job creation.

When we think about the word “infrastructure,” highways, bridges and rail lines immediately come to mind because they are a tangible presence in our daily lives. A critical piece of our nation’s infrastructure, however, lies mostly unseen and frequently buried beneath our feet: the interconnected web of pipelines that make up the arteries that fuel our economic vitality.

The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, spanning more than 2.5 million miles. The hallmark of the network continues to be that it delivers extraordinary volumes of product reliably, safely, efficiently and economically.

As the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, it is my responsibility to see that we have the right regulatory system in place to monitor, inspect and safely expand America’s vast pipeline infrastructure.

Getting this landmark legislation through a deeply divided Congress was a monumental accomplishment. It underscores the importance of maintaining the integrity of our pipeline infrastructure and builds on our strong commitment to ensuring the continued safety and reliability of our nation’s pipeline system.

In crafting this bipartisan bill with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, Florida Republican, we gained the support of every member of the House and Senate as well as the backing of both the pipeline industry and safety advocates. We worked hard to strengthen the enforcement of current laws and to fill gaps in existing laws where necessary, and we also focused on directly responding to recent pipeline incidents with balanced and reasonable policies, including addressing high-profile incidents in California, Michigan, Montana and Pennsylvania.

In particular, during these times of economic instability, passage of this law was vitally important because it provides the regulatory certainty necessary for industry to make investments and create American jobs. Ensuring a sensible and practical regulatory approach to improving safety that also applies cost-benefit principles will encourage economic development. This is especially true in my home state of Pennsylvania, where the development of the Marcellus Shale presents an historic opportunity for our state to reinvigorate our economy.

Less than 2 percent of the bills introduced in the congested 112th Congress have become law, which makes passage of this legislation even more significant. By working together, we may not have drawn much attention, but I am extremely proud to have written this major legislative accomplishment that strengthens America’s infrastructure, creates jobs and reduces our dependence on foreign energy.

Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

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