In September, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety, or PIPES Act of 2016, expired, meaning that the Pipelines and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is now operating on lapsed authorities.
While largely unknown by the general public, PHMSA is responsible for regulating the most comprehensive network of pipelines in the world. Without pipelines, America would lose its most cost-effective, efficient and safest means of delivering energy products.
Without a proper Congressional authorization and utilizing this opportunity to improve safety policies, we are handicapping PHMSA’s ability to protect those pipelines and, more importantly, the public.
For the past two reauthorization cycles in 2011 and 2016, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — under Republican leadership — has passed bipartisan reauthorizations. Throughout the summer, I worked with both sides of the Committee and industry stakeholders to develop a bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, following the August recess, we were told by the Majority that the bill we had negotiated was being placed “on hold.” Now, two months later and after the authorization has lapsed, that bill is still on hold.
Congress has an opportunity to improve the way we regulate pipelines. The industry and technology have changed immensely since 2016, and we can incorporate technological advances into regulations to deliver more efficient and safer operations. Every day of inaction only further closes the window of opportunity.
Abandoning efforts on a bipartisan pipeline reauthorization sacrifices the progress made to improve safety and streamline regulations.
One of my top priorities for the PHMSA reauthorization remains codifying industry standards allowing for a third operational status of “idle” to be added to PHMSA’s existing standards of “active” and “abandoned” pipelines. This would allow pipeline operators to better maintain out-of-demand lines, leading to a safer, more efficient and more market-responsive energy distribution network.
We also support an innovative technology pilot program approach that would ensure American energy companies remain competitive internationally while improving safety. Sadly, both of these bipartisan provisions have been thrown out in the name of satiating environmental “keep it in the ground” hardliners who have no interest in or knowledge of PHMSA’s pipeline safety mission.
I, along with the rest of the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Republicans, remain focused on delivering a bill that fosters collaboration between PHMSA and industry stakeholders, harnesses the power of American ingenuity and innovation to enhance safety, reduces regulatory burdens and above all else makes the system safer. The T&I Committee is the primary committee of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives for PHMSA, but the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee has oversight over pipelines as well. E&C may very well pass legislation concerning pipeline workforce and environmental concerns, but T&I is the primary committee that should be reauthorizing PHMSA. E&C has also been working on a bill in a partisan manner — and I have been unimpressed with what I have seen. The House T&I and E&C Committees should be working in a bipartisan way, as we have done in the past, to pass legislation to conference with the Senate.
T&I Republicans remain open to resuming discussions with our Democrat colleagues, and I hope that the leadership on the other side is willing to roll up their sleeves and get back to work with us. Improving pipeline safety is a win for both sides of the aisle and for America. At the end of the day, Congress is responsible for overseeing industry and fostering an environment that allows for the delivery of energy products as safely, quickly and efficiently as possible — and not playing partisan games to score political points. The question is whether or not our Democratic colleagues will put the American public’s safety first and come back to the table and work with us.
• Rep. Rick Crawford, Arkansas Republican, serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where he is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials; the House Committee on Agriculture; and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.