By Colby Itkowitz
A Republican U.S. senator well-known for his strict anti-government regulation beliefs has blocked consideration of a pipeline safety bill. A fatal natural gas explosion in Allentown last winter, as well as a series of other pipeline-related incidents across the country, had convinced most lawmakers that greater federal oversight is necessary.
But Rand Paul, son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, is alone holding up the pipeline measure in the Senate, as first reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by a Democratic Senate source. Paul reportedly is not opposed to any part of the bill, but the idea of more federal regulations in general.
A Senate committee passed the bill in May unanimously. Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey sits on the committee, and said in a statement at the time, "The bipartisan measure takes important steps toward improving pipeline safety and preventing future tragedies like those that unfortunately took place in Philadelphia and Allentown."
Lehigh Valley U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent said Tuesday he was "saddened but not surprised" by Paul's hold, noting it's one of the rare pieces of legislation that has broad bipartisan consensus and industry support.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's spokeswoman April Mellody said the Senate bill helps municipalities like Allentown because Casey secured a provision requiring regular reporting from utility companies to the U.S. Transportation Department regarding replacement of old cast iron pipes.
The Senate had hoped to streamline passage by unanimous consent, but now with Paul blocking it, the Senate would have to devote days of debate to the bill to get it passed. The House has two versions of pipeline safety law that should come to a vote sometime before the end of the year. It was widely believed pipeline safety could be the first substantive piece of new legislation to become law in 112th Congress.