Pipeline workers who reveal safety problems would receive whistleblower protection under a bill passed by the Senate.
S. 2438 also increases fines, boosts state oversight and requires operators to disclose more information about their pipes.
The bill, passed last Thursday, was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
It increases funding for the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), the federal agency that oversees pipelines.
An Aug. 19 natural gas pipeline explosion in Carlsbad, N.M. -- which killed 12 people -- was thought to have contributed to the passage of the bill this year.
Under the bill, pipeline operators for the first time are required to submit detailed plans to the OPS showing that the operators conducted tests and inspections and took other steps to make the lines safe.
The operators also will have to show the Transportation Department agency that they have trained employees operating the pipes.
Fines for safety violators would be increased from $500,000 to $1 million, and federal funding for the OPS would increase by $13 million annually by 2002.
Other provisions of the bill:
- Require operators to report spills of 5 gallons or more, rather than the current requirement of more than 200 gallons.
- Allow states, with the permission of OPS, to investigate pipeline accidents and examine new pipeline construction.
- Require operators to make available to the public, maps emergency response plans and spill incident reports.
by Virginia Sutcliffe