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