Following Harlem explosion, Senator’s bills would help update aging infrastructure; Markey report found hundreds of explosions over decade, billions of dollars lost to leaky pipelines

WASHINGTON (March 14, 2014) – The natural gas explosion in New York City this week has highlighted the aging infrastructure that delivers fuel in cities across the United States. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today said that the Senate should quickly consider his legislation that would help utilities and consumers by speeding up the replacement of old, leaky natural gas pipelines that cost consumers billions in lost gas and have contributed to hundreds of explosions over the last decade.

Senator Markey’s legislation would prod states and natural gas companies to speed up their replacement of aged infrastructure, while providing a new, stable funding stream to put people to work building a modern natural gas system. While investigations are ongoing into the cause of the explosion in Harlem, Consolidated Edison has confirmed that the pipe that funneled gas into the destroyed East Harlem buildings was partly made of cast iron and dated back to 1887. In 2012, a massive explosion in Springfield, Massachusetts injured 18 people and severely damaged several buildings, which was a major factor in Senator Markey’s efforts to update natural gas pipelines.


“The explosion in New York City, much like the one that occurred in Springfield in my home state of Massachusetts, is a tragic event that has shaken a city. The unseen patchwork of aging natural gas pipelines in our country threatens our safety, takes money out of our pockets, and releases emissions that worsen climate change,” said Senator Markey. “Fixing these pipelines will save lives and create jobs. Now is the time to consider how we can protect the American public and first responders from this kind of event and push for updates to our natural gas pipeline system.”


Senator Markey’s pipeline legislation has two parts. The first bill -- the Pipeline Modernization and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 -- would accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of natural gas distribution pipelines that are leaking or pose high risks of leaking due to their age, material, or condition. To expedite these upgrades, the bill requires utilities and state regulators to consider adopting policies that prioritize repair timelines to address the leakiest pipes first; cost recovery programs that allow companies to more quickly recover the capital they spend to replace pipelines; and limits on the amount of lost and unaccounted for gas for which utilities can charge consumers. 


The second piece of legislation - the Pipeline Revolving Fund and Job Creation Act -- would establish a state revolving loan fund for natural gas pipeline repair and replacement to provide additional tools to states and utilities to address old, leaking pipeline infrastructure. This pipeline revolving fund is modeled on the extremely successful and popular Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. States would identify natural gas pipeline projects and, as with the established state revolving funds, would have to match 20 percent of the federal funds they receive under this program.


The legislation follows a report released by Senator Markey in August that found that between 2000-2012, almost 800 significant incidents occurred in the United States related to natural gas, including several hundred explosions, killing 116 people. The report also showed leaky natural gas pipelines are costing American consumers tens of billions of dollars for fuel that may never reach their homes. For example, consumers in the Senator's home state of Massachusetts paid up to $1.5 billion in extra charges from 2000-2011 because of tens of thousands of miles of old, leaking pipelines.


Supporters of one or both of the bills include Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, Pipeline Safety Trust, United Steelworkers, National Grid, BlueGreen Alliance, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Clean Water Action, New England Gas Workers Association, Gas Safety USA, Natural Resources Defense Council, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Massachusetts Chapter Sierra Club, American Public Gas Association, and Third Way.


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