Markey, Trahan file pipeline safety bill

Legislation named after 18-year-old Lawrence victim

THE ANNOUNCEMENT BY Columbia Gas of Massachusetts that it plans to replace hundreds of appliances in homes impacted by the September natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley coincides with the unveiling of a bill to make sure such a horror never happens again.

Executives of the company announced Thursday that they plan to replace all heating appliances in 900 homes by late August. The company has paid out $99.5 million to settle more than 24,000 claims filed by customers seeking reimbursements for damaged or replaced items. But the settlements have earned barely more than a side-eye glance from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who has told media that the company has withheld payments for restorative work.

Rivera was one of a group of politicos backing Sen. Ed Markey and Congresswoman Lori Trahan in unveiling the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act, which calls for stricter regulations and more severe penalties on natural gas companies that mess up.

“There will be no more slaps on the wrist,” Markey said at a press conference. The bill requires professional engineers to approve all significant changes to pipelines, assure on-site pressure monitoring is done by qualified employees, and mandates accurate record-keeping and mapping of pipeline systems. The damages a utility could be held responsible for would increase 100-fold from $2 million to $200 million.

The bill is named for the 18-year-old man who was killed when a chimney shaken by a blast fell onto the SUV where he was sitting in a Lawrence driveway. Rivera said “bringing their feet to the fire has been very important to us,” and added that Leonel Rondon will be remembered with the passing of the bill. “Fifty years from now, when they talk about pipeline safety, they’re going to remember his name.”

Meanwhile, Markey pointed out that pipeline infrastructure is “a ticking time bomb,” and stressed the importance of closing regulatory loopholes.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Just this week, the Connecticut Post reported a new survey showed that methane is seeping into the air from low pressure gas lines across the state, which could cause a “disaster similar to the explosions last year that rocked three Massachusetts towns.”

The national Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would be tasked with establishing the regulations of the Rondon bill. The Senate Commerce Committee will meet to discuss the measure next Wednesday.