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Obama administration wants to strengthen pipeline oversight in light of accidents such as San Bruno's

September 15, 2010 | 12:03 pm

In the wake of the deadly gas explosion in Northern California and other recent pipeline breaks across the country, the Obama administration on Wednesday asked Congress to strengthen oversight of pipelines -- including increasing penalties for safety violations -- as the San Bruno incident drew increased interest from members of Congress.

The legislation would more than double, from $1 million to $2.5 million, the maximum fine for the most serious safety violations and increase pipeline inspection forces.

Congress is scheduled to recess in a few weeks to allow lawmakers to campaign before the November election, making it unlikely a safety bill can pass before next year. But Deputy  Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said at a Capitol Hill hearing on pipeline safety Wednesday that the department is considering imposing tougher rules, including requiring emergency flow-restricting devices in pipelines, extending regulations to currently exempt pipelines and identifying areas along pipelines that should receive additional protection.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) weighed in during the hearing, called in response to a Michigan oil pipeline spill, by pledging the "full support of the entire House to ensure that all that can be done is being done to prevent future incidents."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) asked the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold a pipeline safety hearing in California, saying that lawmakers need to examine, among other things, "urbanization near existing high-pressure pipelines."

"How many of us live or work above a potential devastating explosion?" Garamendi asked.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in proposing legislation, said in a statement that his department "needs stronger authority to ensure the continued safety and reliability of our nation’s pipeline network,’’ citing recent oil pipeline failures near Marshall, Mich., and Romeoville, Ill. and the gas pipeline explosion in Northern California.

-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photos: Deadly gas explosion in San Bruno