Rand Paul lifts hold; Senate OKs pipeline safety bill
The Senate approved a pipeline-safety bill growing out of a spate of incidents, including last year's deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had been holding up the measure, agreed Monday to let it move forward after reaching agreement with Democratic senators to add a key recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board after the San Bruno blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
Paul added a requirement for testing older pipelines. The measure was approved by unanimous consent Monday evening.
Usually wary of regulatory oversight, Paul surprised Congress watchers by saying he wanted to strengthen the legislation.
But the bill was not expected to include an NTSB recommendation to require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas, a response to the nearly 95 minutes it took utility workers to manually shut off gas spewing from the San Bruno blast. That requirement has faced industry opposition.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have urged the Obama administration to use its regulatory authority to implement the NTSB recommendations. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed state legislation to require automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensure that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines in California.
Feinstein and Boxer, nonetheless, welcomed movement on the Senate legislation.
"It is a critical bill," Feinstein said in a statement. "Pipeline safety must be assured.''
A similar bill awaits action in the House.
The House and Senate measures would boost fines for safety violations, increase the number of federal safety inspectors and require automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves on new gas pipelines, among other things.
Paul lifted his hold on the eve of a Senate hearing on pipeline safety.
Pipeline safety legislation has moved center stage on Capitol Hill due to other pipeline incidents, including two earlier this year -- a pipeline explosion that killed five people in Allentown, Pa., and a pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana. Another pipeline spill occurred in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan last year.
-- Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: A massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif. Credit: Michael Sah / Associated Press