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Pipeline safety bill clears Congress, headed to president

December 13, 2011 |  6:46 pm

Ruptured San Bruno natural gas pipeline. The resulting explosion killed eight people.
A pipeline safety bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday night was headed to President Obama for his expected signature.

The measure, which moved through Congress with unusual speed, gained bipartisan support after a number of high-profile accidents around the country, including a pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif.,  last year that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

"This bill makes sure pipeline operators know the limits of their pipelines and abide by them, and allows for more inspectors and harsher penalties to enforce the law,'' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "It requires the first-ever pressure testing for older pipelines and requires automatic shut-off valves where feasible. In short, this bill puts in place common-sense safeguards that should have existed years ago.” 

Fellow California Sen. Barbara Boxer also praised the legislation. "While still more needs to be done, this bill represents an important step toward ensuring the safety of our communities by increasing pipeline inspections and imposing tougher penalties for safety violations,'' she said. 

The bill, which passed the House on Monday, would double the maximum fine for safety violations to $2 million, authorize more pipeline inspectors and require automatic shut-off valves on new or replaced pipelines "where economically, technically and operationally feasible.''

But it does not include a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to require such shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas. Industry groups oppose that idea because of the cost.


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Photo: A natural gas line lies broken on a San Bruno, Calif., street in September 2010 after a massive explosion that killed eight people and leveled 38 homes. Credit: Noah Berger / Associated Press