Bill Text (PDF)

Washington (September 13, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety and a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today introduced the Penalizing and Improving Prevention of Emergencies (PIPE) Act, legislation that would close loopholes and lift barriers so the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) can better protect communities from pipeline accidents and disasters and ensure companies are held accountable for wrongdoing. The introduction falls on the anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions on September 13, 2018, which resulted in the death of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, dozens of injuries, damage to more than 100 structures, and thousands of homes left without natural gas service for months.

“It’s been five years since the Columbia Gas explosions devastated the communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The Merrimack Valley is still healing. The family of Leonel Rondon is still grieving,” said Senator Markey. “We must continue making progress by delivering stronger protections and allowing our federal regulators to make swift, effective safety standards. Federal regulators should have all the tools they need to hold bad actors accountable—not be held hostage by industry interests.”

Specifically, the PIPE Act would:

  1. Remove a requirement for an unnecessary analysis that prioritizes company profits in safety rulemakings;
  2. Close a loophole in the law that restricts PHMSA from applying updated regulations to pipelines that are already installed;
  3. Empower PHMSA to deliver greater civil penalties and hold bad actors criminally liable for violating rules; and,
  4. Prohibit the release of gas or hazardous liquids from any pipeline.

Last month, Senator Markey applauded PHMSA’s announcement of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to improve safety requirements for natural gas distribution pipelines. In 2020, Senator Markey’s Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which was cosponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and led by Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-03) and Seth Moulton (MA-08) in the House, became law and strengthened emergency response and safety standards for natural gas distribution pipelines.

The PIPE Act is endorsed by the Pipeline Safety Trust and Public Citizen.

“For too long Congress has hamstrung PHMSA from being the regulator it needs to be by preventing certain rules from applying to existing pipelines, forcing regulations through two separate and burdensome cost-benefit requirements, and limiting civil penalties to meaningless amounts. Sadly, because of Congress’ meddling, we are not making progress on long-term trends of pipeline failures. This bill would address these systemic weaknesses and enact common-sense improvements, like making it illegal to spill large amounts of oil. This bill finally gives PHMSA more freedom to enact rules to begin making a difference on pipeline safety,” said Bill Caram, Executive Director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.

“Public Citizen is proud to endorse legislation that helps protect communities from pipeline dangers, including increasing financial penalties for pipeline operators that violate the law,” said Tyson Slocum, Energy Program Director at Public Citizen.