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Our attorneys stay on top of changes in legislation, agency regulations, case law, and industry trends—then craft timely legal alerts to keep clients up to date on legal developments important to their business.

December 30, 2020

President Trump Signs PIPES Act Into Law, Reauthorizing Funding for Pipeline Safety Programs and Mandating Regulatory Reforms

On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2020, or the “PIPES” Act. Congress passed the periodic bill in both houses on December 21 after well over a year of deliberation, having included it within the omnibus package for coronavirus relief. The act is an update to the PIPES Act of 2016, passed under the Obama Administration.

The PIPES Act provides funding for the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2023 and directs the agency to take numerous regulatory actions related to pipeline safety, including data gathering, methane emissions mitigation, and safety systems pilots.

The key provisions of the PIPES Act include:

  • $156 million in agency funding for 2021, $159 million for 2022, and $163 million for 2023. For each year, $9 million is earmarked for PHMSA to carry out the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, and roughly $60 to 70 million is earmarked annually for grant programs. Funding was also made available for state agencies.
  • Authorization for hiring and training additional personnel for pipeline inspection and enforcement.
  • Authorization for PHMSA to establish pipeline safety-enhancement pilot programs for technologies and operational practices for either natural gas or hazardous liquid facilities. The act also authorizes the US transportation secretary, currently Elaine L. Chao, to promulgate standards based on the results of such programs, should they find it practicable. Further, PHMSA must conduct a pipeline safety testing enhancement study by 2022 and report to Congress on the research and development capabilities of the administration and whether an additional independent pipeline safety testing facility would be beneficial.
  • A number of measures aimed at providing additional transparency into the PHMSA’s enforcement proceedings, such as a Government Accountability Office review of PHMSA materials available online and recommendations to improve availability of information.
  • Updates to the PHMSA methane leak detection and repair regulatory regime. In particular, the act directs PHMSA to promulgate minimum performance standards, calls for the use of advanced leak detection technologies (such as equipment used for continuous monitoring or periodic surveys), and includes rules for construction that primarily limit extensions of timelines for repairs or remediation of leaks. These measures have the goal of greatly reducing methane emissions, which the EPA estimates account for 46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually through intentional venting and unintentional leaks.
  • A mandate that PHMSA issue regulations addressing safety standards for large-scale liquefied natural gas export facilities. This includes requirements for operators to develop and maintain written safety information, conduct hazard assessments (including accidental release), and create hazard identification and response protocols as well as to implement a host of employee and contractor safety measures.

Lastly, Title II of the PIPES Act contains additional provisions related to distribution systems. Beyond additional regulations related to system integrity and safety measures, this section outlines the state pipeline safety program certifications to ensure state regulators are adequately staffed and prepared to address pipeline safety.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Yvonne Hennessey, Environmental Practice Area chair, at yhennessey@barclaydamon.com; Brenda Colella, Regulatory Practice Group leader, at bcolella@barclaydamon.com; David Solimeno, associate, at dsolimeno@barclaydamon.com; or Emma Marshall, law clerk, at emarshall@barclaydamon.com.

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