Avowed libertarian Rand Paul of Kentucky is single-handedly blocking legislation in the Senate meant to address some of the deficiencies in pipeline regulation that contributed to the San Bruno disaster last year. The bill, called the Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2011, has nearly unanimous support in the Senate, plus the backing of industry.
You can read the full text of the bill (pdf), or a summary of the mandates it would impose, including the installation of "shut-off valves in new or entirely replaced transmission pipelines," but not on existing pipelines like the one that exploded in San Bruno.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the net cost of the legislation to the federal government is $46 million over the 2012-2016 period. Or barely a rounding error in the context of the overall budget. You can read the estimate here.
Paul is blocking the bill by refusing to agree to a commonly used method to pass legislation in the Senate. From AP:
[The bill] was approved without opposition by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May. Paul is the only senator opposing an effort by the bill's Democratic sponsors to pass it swiftly using "unanimous consent" procedures that eliminate the need for a time-consuming debate.
So what does Paul have to say about his blocking action? His office issued a statement this morning:
The Senate can deal with and likely pass the new pipeline regulations bill. In fact, they could have done so at any time since this bill has been ready since July. Time could have been scheduled for debate and votes during any one of the many weeks we sit here all week with few votes. The fact is Senate Democrat leaders woefully mismanage the process in the Senate, leaving days and weeks of ineffectively used time, then asserting that bills need to pass with no debate or vote at all.
I believe legislation should have open debate and votes. It need not take weeks. Certainly we could spend an afternoon for the people’s elected representatives to discuss whether they got massive new regulations right. In the case of the pipeline bill, absolutely nothing in the current bill would have prevented the recent pipeline problems, or would have prevented the tragedy in San Bruno last year. The bill puts in place new mandates; it hires new bureaucrats. But it doesn’t properly diagnose the problem, and it grandfathers in the very pipelines that have had recent problems. It makes no sense. As a doctor, I find it offensive to rush through treatment when you haven’t diagnosed the problem properly.
I am happy to work with Senate leadership to schedule time to discuss and vote on this bill soon. Perhaps they can even work to correct the fact that this session of the Senate has held the fewest votes in decades, paralyzed by the fear of the majority to do things in the light of day.
Yesterday, Jackie Speier, San Bruno's House Rep., issued this statement about Paul's recalcitrance:
Senator Paul is blinded by ideology and in my view, indifferent to the overwhelming evidence that self regulation of the gas industry is a prescription for further death and injury. We must learn the lessons of the deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 of my constituents. The gas industry is in desperate need of strong regulation and oversight.
The Senate bill is a good start but fails to take into account many of the recommendations released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board in its report on San Bruno, such as making sure older pipelines are pressure tested. The Senate bill should serve as a baseline for pipeline safety legislation with room for Congress to go further and embrace the NTSB’s recommendations. But Senator Paul won’t even allow us to begin that conversation. Senator Paul should stop being an industry apologist and allow the important debate on pipeline safety to proceed.”
So Speier and Paul do agree on one thing, it seems: The proposed regs aren't a preventative to a San Bruno-like disaster...