By Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) - Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation unveiled a bill Monday aimed at strengthening pipeline safety in the U.S. in response to September’s natural gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley.

Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan say the bill would require on-site monitoring of pressure regulation stations, so employees could quickly shut off gas flow in an emergency. It would also require other safety features to help avoid over-pressurizations, blamed for the Merrimack Valley disaster.

The Democrats joined the family of Leonel Rondon, the Lawrence teen killed in the disaster, to unveil the bill Monday at a fire station in Lawrence. The bill is named in honor of Rondon.

“Without strengthening safety regulations, America’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure remains a ticking time bomb,” Markey said in an emailed statement. “We need to close the regulatory safety holes that exist by taking the lessons from this tragedy and turning them into laws.”

The Sept. 13 gas explosions injured 25 others and damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings in the Merrimack Valley.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are co-sponsoring the proposal, which is also intended to improve emergency response coordination with the public and first responders and will mandate use of accurate and reliable maps and records by gas pipeline operators.

Warren said the bill would help “prevent disasters like this from happening again by ensuring that cutting corners on safety is a thing of the past.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on pipeline safety. Markey is a member of the committee.

Massachusetts has also taken steps to try to improve pipeline safety.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker last month signed a spending bill that includes $1.5 million to pay for a statewide examination of Massachusetts’ natural gas distribution system.

In November, the state Department of Public Utilities announced that it had selected Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems to conduct the independent safety review of pipeline infrastructure and the operation of natural gas companies throughout the state, and recommend any needed improvements.

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