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Rep. DeFazio Requests Audit of Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Programs

Feb 3, 2015
Press Release
Blasts agency in rail hearing for failing to address serious safety concerns

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel, III requesting a full audit of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs. The request comes on the same day that DeFazio highlighted PHMSA’s failure to address longstanding pipeline and hazardous materials safety issues, including new design standards for DOT-111 tank cars, in a Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee hearing.

“In multiple pipeline accident investigations over the last 15 years, the NTSB has identified the same persistent issues, most of which PHMSA has failed to address on its own accord. Each and every time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action, most recently in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. Three years later, almost none of the important safety measures in the Act have been finalized,” wrote DeFazio.

DeFazio also highlights PHMSA’s failure to issue a long-delayed rule dealing with the design of rail tank cars. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has raised concerns about the “high incidence of failure” of DOT-111 tank cars since 1991. In fact, the NTSB has investigated or been made aware of 12 accidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials in DOT-111 tank cars over the past decade. Despite repeated NTSB recommendations and a 2011 industry-organized petition to adopt new standards, PHMSA failed to act until a train transporting crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013. A notice of proposed rulemaking was issued two months later; PHMSA has yet to issue a final rule. It does not expect to issue a final rule until May 2015.

In the hearing, DeFazio asked rail experts about PHMSA’s failure to issue new rail tank car safety standards.

In his letter to the IG, DeFazio requested the IG evaluate the agency’s effectiveness in addressing:

  • congressional mandates, and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommendations in a timely manner;
  • the process PHMSA utilizes for implementing such mandates and recommendations;
  • the sufficiency of PHMSA’s efforts to coordinate with the modal administrations and address safety concerns raised by those administrations;
  • and any impediments to agency action.

 

The full letter to IG Scovel is below:

 

 

February 3, 2015

 

 

The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III

Inspector General

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.

Washington, DC 20590

 

Dear Inspector General Scovel:

Recently, I sent the enclosed letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) expressing my concerns regarding the failure of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to address longstanding pipeline and hazardous materials safety issues, including new design standards for DOT-111 tank cars.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has raised concerns about the “high incidence of failure” of DOT-111 tank cars since 1991. In fact, the NTSB has investigated or been made aware of 12 accidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials in DOT-111 tank cars over the past decade. Despite repeated NTSB recommendations and a 2011 petition from the Association of American Railroads to adopt new standards, PHMSA failed to act until a train transporting crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013. A notice of proposed rulemaking was issued two months later; we still do not have a final rule, and PHMSA does not expect one until May 2015.

 

PHMSA’s failure to address significant safety issues does not end there. In multiple pipeline accident investigations over the last 15 years, the NTSB has identified the same persistent issues, most of which PHMSA has failed to address on its own accord. Each and every time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action, most recently in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-90). Three years later, almost none of the important safety measures in the Act have been finalized.

 

Finalizing these rules is imperative; our Nation’s vast 2.5 million-mile pipeline network is aging. According to PHMSA, more than 50 percent of these pipelines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. The potential for catastrophic accidents is not a matter of if, but when. DOT must be prepared to address any pipeline or hazardous material safety deficiencies now, not just when we mandate action.

For these reasons, I am concerned with the agency’s ability to address significant safety issues and am requesting an audit of PHMSA’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs. Specifically, I request an evaluation of the agency’s effectiveness in addressing: congressional mandates, and NTSB, Government Accountability Office, and Office of Inspector General recommendations in a timely manner; the process PHMSA utilizes for implementing such mandates and recommendations; the sufficiency of PHMSA’s efforts to coordinate with the modal administrations and address safety concerns raised by those administrations; and any impediments to agency action.

If you need additional information or have questions regarding this letter, please have your staff contact the Committee staff at (202) 225-3274.

Thank you for your consideration.

 

                                                            Sincerely,

 

 

 

PETER DeFAZIO

                                                            Ranking Member

 

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