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Corporate Liability And Emergency Accident Notification Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 6008, as amended, the ``Corporate Liability and Emergency Accident Notification Act,'' introduced by the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Schauer).

Last week, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on the rupture of Enbridge's Line 6B pipeline, which released more than one million gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River just one mile south of Marshall, Michigan. The Kalamazoo River flows into Lake Michigan. The spill devastated the local environment and wildlife, uprooted homeowners that live near the creek and river, and exposed local communities to noxious and toxic substances before Enbridge even raised alarm.

I recall vividly in 1986, as Congress prepared for reauthorization of the pipeline safety program, a massive rupture that occurred on the Williams Pipe Line in Mounds View, Minnesota. Corrosion was the culprit. Unleaded gasoline spilled from a 7.5-foot long opening along the longitudinal seam of the pipe. Gasoline vapors combined with air and liquid gasoline flowed along neighborhood streets for about an hour and a half--until the manually operated gate valve was shut off. About 30 minutes into the release, the gasoline vapor was ignited when a car entered the area, its loose tailpipe struck the pavement, sparked and ignited the vapor. An inferno engulfed three full blocks of the neighborhood: a woman and her daughter were burned severely when the fireball rolled over them, later taking their lives. Another person suffered serious burns.

I have talked about that incident during debate on every pipeline safety bill that has come before this House because I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the devastation that rupture had caused; it will be with me for the rest of my life. Congressman Schauer, I assure you, will never forget where he was when he learned of the Enbridge spill in Marshall, Michigan. Nor will Congressman Rick Larsen ever blot out the memory of the gasoline spill in a creek that flowed through Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington, that claimed the lives of two 10-year-old boys and a young man of 18 celebrating high school graduation by fishing in that creek.

While we do not yet know the cause of the Michigan incident, we do know that the spill likely occurred sometime the day before Enbridge reported it to the National Response Center. We know that, contrary to Enbridge's claims at our hearing, the Enbridge control center did not even realize that a massive rupture had occurred on

the pipeline until a utility worker from an unrelated company, Consumers Energy, called Enbridge to report that oil was spilling into Talmadge Creek. We know that Enbridge personnel at the control center experienced an abrupt pressure drop on the line, that they experienced multiple volume balance alarms over the course of 13 hours before sending a technician to the pump station, located just three-quarters of a mile from the rupture. We know that Enbridge reported that the technician did not see any problems or smell any odors at the pump station, even though numerous residents in the immediate vicinity of the pump station (and others living nine miles away) reported to Committee staff that they smelled strong odors the day before. We also know that Enbridge knew about hundreds of defects in the line, and we know that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was made aware of them and failed to do anything to address Enbridge's inaction.

The bill before you today holds pipeline operators accountable to a maximum of one hour to telephonically report a release of hazardous liquid or gas resulting in an incident. As the Enbridge oil disaster in Marshall, Michigan, underscores--every minute that passes following a release of hazardous liquid or gas from a pipeline is one less minute that responders have to protect the community and the surrounding environment.

The bill also increases the maximum civil penalty for each pipeline safety violation from $100,000 to $250,000 and the maximum civil penalty per incident from $1 million to $2.5 million, the same amounts proposed by the Obama administration in its pipeline safety reauthorization bill. The maximum penalties for violations of pipeline safety regulations under current law have not been increased in almost a decade. Adequate levels of penalties are necessary to deter unsafe operating practices by the pipeline industry, particularly in serious cases involving injuries, fatalities, and significant environmental damage. The bill further clarifies that civil penalties are applicable to obstruction of an investigation.

The bill includes a requirement that the Secretary of Transportation maintain a Web site that depicts all reportable incidents involving hazardous liquid and gas pipelines and allows the public to search the database for incidents by the owner or operator of a pipeline facility.

Over the coming weeks, I intend to work in a bipartisan manner to develop a comprehensive pipeline safety reauthorization bill. In the interim, I feel that this bill strengthens the accountability of pipeline operators.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 6008.


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